Belfast Telegraph

Abortion law changes urged as conference defies protests

Campaigner calls for a rethink of ‘restrictive’ rules

By Patrice Dougan

Pro-choice campaigners have called for Northern Ireland’s “restrictive” abortion laws to be modernised.

Writing in today’s Belfast Telegraph, Dr Audrey Simpson from the Family Planning Association said: “It’s time for change.”

The call comes as the first all-Ireland conference on abortion and clinical practice was held at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle.

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK where abortion is illegal.

The conference was marred by campaigners trying to prevent it from going ahead, and medical professionals were yesterday faced with around 140 protesters armed with placards and images of abortion as they entered the gates of the hotel.

The conference was branded “absolutely outrageous” by Precious Life director Bernie Smyth, who said organisers had an “audacity to organise an abortion conference in a country where abortion is illegal”.

“The vast majority of people here are opposed to abortion and are offended and outraged that this conference is taking place,” she said. “Unionists and nationalists alike, it’s the one thing that unites both communities.”

She said politicians had come out of a political conference taking place in the same hotel to show their support to the pro-life campaign.

The group has also lodged an official complaint with the PSNI asking them to investigate the legality of the conference.

Questioning the legality of the conference, Mrs Smyth said: “What the organisers and speakers at this conference are doing in incitement — encouraging health professionals here to commit the crimes of illegal abortion and child destruction.”

A police spokesperson confirmed officers were dealing with the complaint, and said if criminal offences are identified “appropriate action” will be taken.

But the Family Planning Association, who helped organise the event, said this was a “desperate” attempt to stop the conference taking place.

Director for the association in Northern Ireland, Mrs Simpson, said they “wouldn’t bow down to such hostile tricks”, and the event had “continued regardless”.

She said the protests had not affected the event, and the media attention provided by the pro-life groups had in fact generated “a significant amount of publicity”.

“Once again it’s bringing attention to the fact that women in Northern Ireland are no different from women in the rest of the UK,” she said. “Many women, for various reasons, are choosing to end an unplanned pregnancy and they are no different from women in England, Scotland, Wales, France, Germany, Italy and throughout Europe.

She said for the almost 100 women who have legal abortions in Northern Ireland every year, and the thousands who travel abroad to have the procedure carried out, the medical practitioners here must be fully capable of looking after them.

Pro-life lobby gets vocal amid heavy security

Situated right on the seafront, the Slieve Donard Hotel commands spectacular views of both the Mournes and the Irish Sea. But those sights were lost yesterday.

As mist covered the mountains, most people’s attention was on the singing, praying Protesters standing firm at the gates. The protesters carried placards and banners with slogans like “doctors of death not wanted in Ireland”, and branding medical staff who carry out abortions as “worse than the abusers of Baby P”.

Around 140 people in all came from across Northern Ireland and the Republic to object to the first all-Ireland conference on abortion and clinical |practice.

Crowds surrounded the mini-roundabout at the entrance to the Slieve Donard Hotel, where dozens of police officers were stationed. A political conference was also being held in the venue and security was high.

This was stepped up after a protester attempted to enter the abortion conference. The woman was stopped by staff when her name was not on the list of delegates and she could not identify herself.

Precious Life director Bernie Smyth denied anybody connected to the pro-life group was involved.

“That’s outrageous,” she said. “It’s not in our interest to be inside the conference, it’s in our interest to be outside. That’s a distraction from what we are doing. That’s trying to put a negative spin on a very well-represented, successful protest.”

Demonstrators, many accompanied by children or babies in prams, wore yellow smiley-face stickers, which declared “I’m pro-life”.

Others sang hymns in the direction of the hotel, while others prayed. Two brothers from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal had come from Londonderry to show their support for the pro-life movement.

Patsy and Kerry McAuley, with the Choose Life group, had travelled from Ballymena to be there. They said they were protesting against people “trying to legalise abortion and the killing of the unborn”.

“There’s been enough bloodshed in this country without the bloodshed of our innocents,” said Mrs McAuley.

Bernadette Ferreira, from the Sacred Heart of Jesus pro-life group in Derry, said people were protesting to “protect our unborn children”.

“They say they are for women,” she said of pro-abortion groups. “But the most vulnerable woman in society is the woman in the womb, and where are our rights as women if we don’t have the first basic right to be born?

“What they are planning in the name of women is hypocrisy and biased.”

But Family Planning Association director Audrey Simpson said the conference had received support from politicians throughout the day. However, most could not openly declare themselves as pro-choice because of their party’s policies, she said.

One of the most striking things about the whole day was the sight of two tourists entering the hotel amidst a hive of security. Visitors to this country will have had an unusual welcome in Newcastle yesterday.

The arguments for and against

Pro Choice

DR AUDREY SIMPSON OBE Director of the Northern Ireland Family Planning Association

Abortion isn't the right answer for every woman with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy.

Women have three options — abortion, adoption or continuing with the pregnancy.

Each comes with different consequences.

Each woman must make the best decision for herself. Her decision will be made according to where she is in her life and a range of personal, family and economic circumstances.

The decision will change from woman to woman and across each woman's lifetime.

When deciding whether to continue with a pregnancy or not, women need good, accurate, non-judgmental, non-directive information and support. Some will want counselling and all need space and time.

Inaccurate propaganda and lies about health implications (for example abortion gives you breast cancer or makes you infertile) does nothing to help women make the right decision.

Nor does it change their minds. Women have abortions (legally or illegally) in every country of the world. And Northern Ireland is no different.

When abortion is illegal or difficult to access, women are pushed into dangerous and life threatening practices.

Alternatively (such as in Northern Ireland) they’re forced to travel to England and other European countries.

Abortion therefore becomes a health and an equality issue as it is only available to women who can afford it.

Whether continuing with a pregnancy they don't want or being forced into paying for one, women's lives in Northern Ireland are damaged by our restrictive abortion practices. It's time for change.

Pro Choice

BERNADETTE SMYTH Director of Precious Life

Precious Life organised a prayer vigil and demonstration against the FPA abortion conference. People from all across the island of Ireland came together to send out a clear message that they will never accept the killing of our unborn children.

Opposition to abortion unites the communities and political parties in Northern Ireland. In 2008, the leaders of our four main political parties and the leaders of our four main churches sent letters to Westminster opposing abortion. The Assembly has also twice passed motions opposing the introduction of abortion to Northern Ireland.

Therefore it is absolutely outrageous that an abortion conference was held in Northern Ireland. Abortion is illegal here and our unborn children are protected under the Offences Against The Person Act and Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland). The 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland, so the two offences of ‘illegal abortion’ and ‘child destruction’ are still in existence and are serious offences.

The conference brochure claimed it was to examine the most up-to-date abortion practice, and that the main objective was for participants to learn about so-called advances in techniques, best practice, post-abortion care, and training of clinicians providing abortion.

Precious Life has asked the PSNI to investigate the legality of this conference. Protecting unborn children from abortion is the greatest human rights battle of our day.

Women deserve better than abortion. My vision is to ensure that any woman in a crisis pregnancy gets all the help and support she needs.

We must eliminate the crisis, not eliminate the baby.

Have Your Say

Should women in Northern Ireland have the right to abortion on demand? Leave your comments below

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