Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland abortion campaign opponents reveal crisis pregnancies at 20

By Yvette Shapiro

The two women leading opposing campaigns on abortion in Northern Ireland have revealed that they both experienced crisis pregnancies at the age of 20.

South Africa-born human rights campaigner Adrianne Peltz and evangelical Christian Dawn McAvoy went on to have their babies in starkly different circumstances.

In exclusive interviews for Northern Woman magazine, the women explain their strongly-held views on abortion and why they've chosen to speak out.

Newtownards mother-of-three Dawn (43), who works for the Christian organisation Evangelical Alliance, was studying Arabic at university in Scotland in 1993 when she discovered that she was expecting a baby with her long-time boyfriend Simon.

"I was in a panic, it was such a shock," she said.

"My GP said I could have a termination and a flatmate's mum, who was also a GP, told me not to throw my life away.

"No one, including the university, offered me the option of staying on and continuing my studies."

Dawn and Simon returned to Northern Ireland and were married within four weeks. Their families were, she said, "shocked but supportive".

Dawn, brought up in a devout Christian household, never considered abortion.

"Pre-born life is pre-born life," she said. "It begins at fertilisation and lasts until we die. Being pro-life is about being pro-women. We need to be honest about what unborn life is."

Her eldest daughter Michal is now 22 and a history graduate. The couple went on to have two other girls, 20-year-old student Erin and trainee hairdresser Megan (18).

Adrianne, who lives in Bangor with her daughter Leah (10), told Northern Woman that she was "devastated and scared" when she discovered that she was pregnant in 2005 while living near Johannesburg.

"It was totally unplanned, a failure of birth control," she said.

"I just cried. South Africa was, at that time, a very conservative country. My boyfriend's parents were evangelical Christians. They were horrified and I had to hide the pregnancy.

"At five months I decided to have an abortion. I was afraid that I would have to raise the child on my own and I was petrified. But deep down I was so excited. I really wanted the baby."

Adrianne and her former boyfriend paid for a termination at a Marie Stopes clinic, but she decided not to go through with it.

She left her boyfriend, who was "furious" at her decision, and flew to Northern Ireland to join her mother, who had already moved here.

"I believe that support and choice should both be available," Adrianne said, who is the lead spokeswoman on abortion for Amnesty International in Northern Ireland.

"I've always understood the importance of having autonomy over your own body," she said.

"Women will always want to terminate pregnancy when it's not right for them."

Dawn and Adrianne clashed on the issue recently as part of a debate on Stephen Nolan's television show. Adrianne is campaigning for a change in the current law to allow women to have access to termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape. Dawn takes a staunchly pro-life stance and opposes any change to legislation.

Both are keen to keep the debate over the controversial issue as civilised as possible.

"I'd like to see a common ground approach," said Dawn.

"We need to speak to women with compassion and we need to reframe the debate. Labels like pro-life and pro-choice aren't helpful."

Adrianne added: "A good campaign never gets too aggressive."

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