Anti-abortionists gather for Belfast rally
An anti-abortion rally being held in Belfast city centre today is expected to attract thousands of people from all over Ireland.
Pro-life organisation Precious Life is staging the rally and director Bernadette Smyth (below) said the event is expected to attract bigger numbers than the estimated 8,000 who attended the event held in Dublin last year.
“Extra buses are being put on this year and we can't keep up with demand — we've had to ask some people to use their own transport and trains,” she said. “It's incredible. We've seven buses coming from Dublin alone and four from Donegal.”
The rally will assemble in Custom House Square and make its way through the city centre and around City Hall before returning to Custom House Square where leaders of various pro-life organisations in Ireland, Britain, Europe and the USA will address the crowd.
The speakers will include controversial American anti-abortion activist Fr Terry Gensemer, who has campaigned successfully for the closure of several abortion clinics in Alabama, and has been accused of harassment and property damage.
Precious Life, a Northern Ireland-based organisation, is itself not without controversy, with Audrey Simpson, director of the Family Planning Association in Belfast, questioning some of the charity’s methods.
“While we respect their right to hold a rally, it's the nature of the protest that would be a concern to us,” said Dr Simpson.
“Almost every day of the week people from Precious Life stand outside our offices in Shaftesbury Square and display photos of aborted foetuses. They intimidate women coming in to see us and have upset many of them, including a woman who called the police and had to leave our building by the back entrance after she was accused of murdering her baby — and she wasn't even pregnant.”
She continued: “As a pro-choice organisation, we feel the nature of their protest is wholly disrespectful to women, and upsetting for not only women who are considering a termination, but those who may have had a miscarriage or are trying to get pregnant.”
However, Mrs Smyth said the pro-life rally will not display images of dead foetuses.
“Today's event is not a protest, it's a rally — a celebration of life. There will be tons of children there,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
Abortion in Northern Ireland is available only in exceptional circumstances. In the last three decades, an estimated 200,000 women from the north and south of Ireland have travelled to England to access abortion services.
But the last 15 years have seen a reduction. In 2011, 1,007 Northern Irish women crossed the Irish Sea for an abortion (down 94 from 2010), compared to 1,572 in 1997.