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Campaigner Sarah Wright fears name was used in old petition to oppose abortion

By Linda Stewart

A pro-choice campaigner says she fears Precious Life may have used her name in a controversial petition to oppose abortion in the event of fatal foetal abnormality.

Sarah Wright is calling on the 'pro-life' group to remove her name from an anti-abortion petition she signed as a child 10 years ago, and says she believes her signature could have been submitted as part of a recent petition which is thought to have used older petitions.

She says she is considering lodging a complaint with the Information Commissioner's Office.

The recent 300,000-name petition, presented to the Assembly by DUP MLA Jim Wells on behalf of Precious Life on November 28, has been branded "potentially dishonest" by Alliance health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw.

Her remarks came after Justice Minister Clare Sugden revealed that what she had received was 47 boxes of material containing nine separate campaigns dating from 2001 to 2014.

Responding to a written question put by Ms Bradshaw, the minister said the boxes included material from a 2012 Precious Life campaign to stop Marie Stopes International opening a clinic in Northern Ireland.

"There was no petition relating to termination of pregnancy for fatal foetal abnormality, and no petition dated after September 2014," the minister said.

"There were also addresses identified in the material provided which were not in Northern Ireland."

Last night, pro-choice campaigner Sarah Wright said she had signed a Precious Life petition 10 years ago when she was under 18, but has since become a pro-choice activist and is horrified that her signature may now have been used in this petition. "I had long suspected that the anti-choice organisation Precious Life had been using decades-old signatures from various campaigns on their petitions, but it was only confirmed by Minister Claire Sugden last week through ministerial questions in the Assembly," Ms Wright said.

"I have been in touch with Precious Life to ask for my signature to be removed, via email and Twitter.

"I have received no response as yet, and have been blocked by Bernie Smyth (of Precious Life) online, after enquiring whether my signature could be removed.

"I have been advised by the Information Commissioner's Office to allow 28 days for a response before lodging a formal complaint with their office.

"It horrifies me, and has caused me considerable distress, that my signature from a decade ago could have been presented in this way, particularly as I do not agree with their stance on reproductive justice issues. The Precious Life petition is a gross misrepresentation of public views, and an improper use of personal data.

"It is regrettable that such an unscrupulous petition was put forward to the Assembly by Jim Wells MLA, who should issue an apology to Assembly members and the general public."

Ms Wright added: "I would ask Bernie Smyth and Precious Life if they can remove my signature, comply with Data Protection requirements regarding the misuse of personal information, and publicly apologise for the distress the organisation has caused to myself and others."

She explained that when she was a pupil at Methodist College Belfast, she had signed the Precious Life petition at their stall in Cornmarket around 2005-2007, when she was under 18.

Ms Wright said that, since she began university, she has been an active and passionate pro-choice activist.

"I have volunteered with Alliance for Choice for the last five years, fundraised for the Abortion Support Network, and proposed pro-choice policy whilst an elected councillor at Queen's University Belfast Students' Union.

"On the 22nd November, I was proud to sit in the public gallery at Stormont when Clare Bailey MLA presented the Amnesty International NI petition to the Assembly, which 45,000 people signed," Ms Wright said.

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