Abortion activists unite in pro-choice rally at Belfast City Hall
Hundreds of pro-choice activists from across Ireland converged on Belfast City Hall yesterday evening to demand changes to Northern Ireland's strict abortion law.
Inspired by the landslide vote in the Republic's referendum in favour of reform, demonstrators north of the border said politicians "can't simply replace the planes to England with buses to the south".
The rally to call for the liberalisation of Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws after the 'Yes' vote in the Republic's referendum was organised by Belfast-based group Solidarity with Repeal.
It hosted speakers from organisations including Alliance for Choice, Rosa NI, the National Union of Students Northern Ireland (NUS-USI), and GenderJam NI.
Addressing the crowd, Stephanie Lord of Drogheda Together for Yes, said: "We made history in the south this week, changing the constitution.
"This struggle isn't over. We are calling on the Irish government to introduce legislation immediately to ensure that we have access to the services we need.
"As well as that, we need to ensure that the people in the North have access to whatever we have. We will stand with you like you stood with us.
"People in crisis pregnancies have the right to choose - they are the best people to decide what happens to them according to their own particular circumstances."
Alliance for Choice Londonderry's Becca Bor described the pro-choice campaign as "a fight across this island" for women's rights.
"We want decriminalisation now, we want to see a new Ireland across this entire island for women's rights. People across this part of the world want to see change, and they want to see choice."
In the absence of an Assembly, Ms Bor urged people to demand that all councils here "follow in the footsteps of Belfast City Council", which in April passed a motion calling for the decriminalisation of women who use abortion pills.
Incoming NUS-USI women's officer Rachel Watters said that the student movement in Northern Ireland was "determined to fight to ensure that the law is changed, and when the law is changed that the medical students and the midwives are ready to enact the law, to practise healthcare as they want to".
And Eleanor Crossey Malone, of socialist feminist movement Rosa NI, said that the referendum result was "more than a yes vote, it's a radical yes vote".
"The referendum has had a hugely invigorating effect on society in the south, and it has already hit the North like a seismic wave, with Theresa May coming under immense pressure to immediately extend the 1967 Abortion Act to NI," she said.
Describing the abortion law here as "draconian", Ms Crossey Malone said the pro-choice movement had "a fight ahead of us".
The group is bringing a Bus4Choice, which will openly break the law by supplying abortion pills, to Laganside Courts on Thursday.
"We will be travelling to Derry and on the way we will be protesting at the offices of the DUP, the UUP, the SDLP and Sinn Fein and the eyes of the world will be on us," she said.
"We won't wait until the DUP is ready. We won't wait until it is politically expedient for Sinn Fein. We want abortion rights here, now, and we will fight until we get them."
Speaking on behalf of the migrant community, Ivanka Antova, who has lived in Belfast for nearly eight years, said: "As a migrant woman I had a very difficult time accepting that in my native country I am trusted to make the best decisions about my body, about my life, and about my future, but in Ireland where I now call home I am not allowed to do the same.
"We can't simply replace the planes to England with buses to the south. Too many think that abortion is a matter of conscience and not a matter of equality and human rights."
Fiona Ferguson from Solidarity for Repeal said that she was "delighted" with the turnout at the rally. "I think that there has been a wave of momentum that has already spread across the border," she said. "We're hoping to harness that and to reignite the fight for abortion rights in the North."