Belfast Telegraph

Abortion ‘safe zone’ protest ruling splits opinion

Mara Clarke
Mara Clarke
Bernie Smyth
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Calls for the Government to create protest-free 'safe zones' outside abortion clinics across the UK has divided opinion among campaigners in Northern Ireland.

It follows a Court of Appeal decision to reject a challenge against Ealing Council in England, which had imposed protest restrictions outside a Marie Stopes clinic in London.

Family planning organisations have now urged the Government to consider national legislation on buffer zones outside every abortion clinic in the country. There are currently no abortion clinics in Northern Ireland following the closure of the Belfast Marie Stopes in 2017.

But that could change if recent legislation passed by Westminster, which would relax abortion laws and legalise same-sex marriage, comes into effect if Stormont is not restored by October 21.

Mara Clarke is the founder of the Abortion Support Network and said buffer zones would be needed here if the law changed.

"Whatever your belief, I don't think it's right you feel you have the right to stand in front of somebody and scream at them, insult them, call them a murderer - or, as is often the case, to give them information that is medically incorrect," she said.

She added: "I recall a very young girl who was pregnant in Belfast. Her parents took her to the Family Planning Association, it wasn't even an abortion clinic.

"When they arrived the people behaved so aggressively towards them that they left and contacted a clinic in England and booked straight in for an abortion.

"They were later given that chance to get advice, but it's crazy that people who want advice have to literally run a gauntlet."

Bernie Smyth is from the anti-abortion group Precious Life and protested outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast for five years.

"What's so wrong with reaching out to women with unexpected pregnancies and offering them alternatives?" she asked.

After 23 years of campaigning, she said she had never witnessed intimidating behaviour by protesters.

"I have never witnessed a pro-life campaigner calling someone a murderer or harassing someone. No right-thinking person would agree with that. What the pro-life movement is about is reaching out to give support," she said.

"It's outrageous to think that in 2019 people will be curtailed from helping women who would welcome it."

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