When Britain passed its more liberalized abortion law in 1967 Northern Ireland was left out of the legislation. Presumably that was to satisfy the predominant Roman Catholic population. That left Northern Ireland with a different statute based on Catholic church standards.
Britain's abortion statute is nothing to rave about. On the face it appears fairly restrictive, although it is sufficiently vague to allow women and their physicians to proceed with a woman's request without being impaired by legal interference.
That leaves Northern Ireland, and many other jurisdictions around the world where abortion services are difficult to acquire or simply do not exist. That traditionally drives abortions into the back alleys.
Now, however, the back alley is a website away.
The Family Planning Association of Northern Ireland describes Women On Web as a reputable site which provides information and medication (Mifepristone or Misoprostal) to women for a non-surgical abortion where the pregnancy is less than 9 weeks along.
Some women in countries where abortion is restricted are using the internet to buy medication enabling them to abort a pregnancy at home, the BBC has learned.
Women in Northern Ireland and over 70 countries with restrictions have used one of the main websites, Women on Web.
A British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology review of 400 customers found nearly 11% had needed a surgical procedure after taking the medication.The website says it can help reduce the problems linked with unsafe abortions.
Women on Web posts the drugs only to countries where abortion is heavily restricted, and to women who declare they are less than nine weeks' pregnant.The service is essentially free, although a donation of 70 Euros is requested. Interestingly, if a woman cannot afford to make a donation, the group has the means to acquire one for her using their donation account, Women's Wallet. This particular site appears to have some affiliation with Women on Waves, a Netherlands-based organization which uses a ship to sail to various countries, where abortion is illegal, providing safe, professional early-term abortions.
Audrey Simpson of the Northern Ireland FPA:
"We're really concerned about women accessing the rogue sites - we're hearing about it and we know it's happening.And sure enough, if you go to Women on Waves and scroll down, there's a warning identifying at least one site which is exploiting women by sending medications without adequate consultation and without continuing assistance. And according to WOW, the pills are useless.
"There are potentially serious medical complications for women from sites which aren't well managed and this could be the new era of backstreet abortions."
That creates a whole other problem. Making abortions illegal through legislation and regulation does not end abortions. It simply drives them into a world of extreme danger. While Women on Web and Women on Waves present safer options for women, the web is starting to sprout back-alley operations.
Of course the fetus fetishists have something to say.
Anti-abortion campaigners said they were appalled by such websites.Uh huh! There's that "unborn child" meme again. And whose program is driving abortion into the shadows lady?
Josephine Quintavalle, from the group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: "This is very worrying indeed. It represents further trivialisation of the value of the unborn child.
"It's like taking abortion into the shadows. These drugs have side-effects and tragedies will increase."
If a woman's right to choose is not the subject of a law, the shadows disappear.