Pro-choice campaigners take illegal abortion pills in front of cops in Belfast

Defiant campaigners have swallowed abortion pills in full view of Belfast police – as pressure mounts for a change in the law following neighbouring Ireland’s historic vote last week.

Pro-choice campaigners, including members of action group Rosa NI, protested outside Laganside Courthouse today demanding a "medieval" ban on abortions is scrapped.

Last week voters in the Republic of Ireland voted by a landslide to repeal laws making abortions illegal.

One of the women who swallowed a pill told reporters: "I’ve taken it in defiance of the extremely outdated, mediaeval anti-choice laws that exist in Northern Ireland.

"We’re not willing in the wake of the victory for the repeal referendum to be left behind any longer."

Theresa May faces calls to allow a free vote in Northern Ireland – but the DUP, who the Tories rely on to prop up their weak government – say it is a move she “would regret” .

And she added: "Women every day in Northern Ireland are using these pills, as long as we act like it’s a secret politicians aren’t under pressure to legislate on this issue.

"We’re bringing this into the spotlight to demand that politicians take action on this immediately."

Rebecca Gomperts, speaking on behalf of protest group Women on Waves, said: "The reason we’re taking the pills is to highlight how safe and freely accessible they are.

"They’re licensed in the UK, and yet women in Northern Ireland take these pills in the UK and they’re silenced, they’re shamed and they’re criminalised. It’s time to stop."

Labour has told the Prime Minister to prove her feminist credentials by reforming Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws.

Mrs May had already faced calls from MPs across the Commons – including within her own Cabinet – to resolve the "anomalous" situation in Northern Ireland following the overwhelming referendum result in Ireland in favour of liberalisation.

Labour said it was now "looking at legislative options" to see how that could be achieved by Westminster.

The party’s shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti said reform was a matter of fundamental human rights.

She told the BBC: "We are calling on Mrs May, a self-identifying feminist, to negotiate with the parties in Northern Ireland and then to legislate without further delay.

"You can’t have democracy without fundamental human rights. And the women of Northern Ireland have suffered for long enough."

But the Prime Minister faces a political headache over the issue because her fragile administration depends on the support of the 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs – who strongly oppose any reform to Northern Ireland’s strict laws.

Downing Street believes that any reform in Northern Ireland "is an issue for Northern Ireland", a source said, adding "it shows one of the important reasons we need a functioning executive back up and running".

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "The legislation governing abortion is a devolved matter and it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide such issues.

"Some of those who wish to circumvent the assembly’s role may be doing so simply to avoid its decision.

"The DUP is a pro-life party and we will continue to articulate our position. It is an extremely sensitive issue and not one that should have people taking to the streets in celebration."

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