Belfast Telegraph

Abortion vote: Mixed feelings and no easy answers for Mass-goers in Belfast after historic result

By Victoria Leonard

The Catholic Church in Ireland may be unwavering in its opposition to any liberalisation of laws on abortion, but among mass-goers in Belfast yesterday there were conflicted feelings.

On the day after 66.4% of voters in the Republic voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, with just 33.6% voting No, the Belfast Telegraph visited Catholic churches across Belfast to gauge opinion.

At St Colmcille's Church on the Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast woman Lynda Deegan, attending church with her two young daughters, said it would be "more compassionate to give people the choice".

"I think as a religion, as a body of faith, the Catholic Church is entitled to their opinion, as is anybody else," she stated.

"But I don't think any one religion should be in a position to dictate what everybody else believes - and that's not just on abortion, that's on absolutely everything.

"As a Catholic, it's a challenge to reconcile that opinion with the desire for a little bit more liberalism.

"But I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion; it's only healthy to have a wide spectrum of opinions.

"I think it would be more compassionate to give people the choice.

"It's very much about live and let live, and I would prefer if abortion never happened.

"I do struggle with it, but at the same time, it's not something for men to decide for women.

"I think things just need to move forward and be less misogynistic.

"Male entitlement stretches to dictating what a woman should do with her own body.

"As much as I would prefer a utopian society where you choose not to have an abortion, it should be your choice. Especially when there's rape or incest."

Her thoughts were echoed by a middle-aged couple, who praised the social change taking place south of the border.

"We were very glad it went through.

"It's great to see the Republic of Ireland as a modern, democratic society, tremendous," said the man, who revealed they have a number of grandchildren. His wife added: "There are so many circumstances that a woman could be in and would have to make a terrible decision, but at least she'd have the medics on her side.

"It must be awful to carry a baby for nine months knowing that they're not going to survive.

"There are people who may want to carry that baby, and that's their right, so long as everybody has the right to choose.

"The days when you could tell everybody how they have to live their lives entirely are long gone.

"But I wouldn't like to hold my breath for change with the political situation here."

At St Peter's Cathedral, Jim McClean (68) said it the referendum result was "good for women" as they would be able to "make their own minds up".

"I think women in Northern Ireland need to be given the choice too," he continued.

"We need to see a widening of abortion law here, but that won't happen with the DUP. It should be the same here as it is in the Republic or in England.

"I don't think it's a Christian attitude here currently - they should be helping people in those circumstances."

Another worshipper at the cathedral described the result as "great" and said "women should have the right over their own bodies".

"There definitely should be liberalisation up here," she stated.

"Why hide the fact that women from here are having abortions?

"They are going to England anyway, so we are just exporting the problem. It's hypocritical.

"It would be more compassionate and kind to treat them here."

Una Torrens (63) called the case of Savita Halappanavar, who died after being denied a termination in 2012, "a terrible situation".

"I'm against abortion, I think it's an awful thing," she stated.

"But I do think there are times when it's human and charitable.

"It's kind, for example, if women are in a dire strait of health.

"I think every case is exceptional and everything should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

"There are some things you can't decide until you are in the situation yourself."

Arriving at Holy Cross Church with her two grandchildren, Nora Harrison (58) said she felt there needed to be "more compassion" in the abortion debate here.

"It couldn't be an easy choice to make," said the Ardoyne woman. "For me personally, I don't agree with what they decided in the referendum, but I can understand why some people would choose it.

"My sister lives in England, and when her daughter was 12, her friend got raped, and they opted for an abortion.

"I can remember I was very anti-abortion.

"Then I thought, 'If I had a 12-year-old daughter who was raped, would I really want her to be a mummy and lose out on her childhood?'

"But I do believe in the right to life.

"I'm very conflicted. I think that cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

"And I think if the mother's life is in danger the mother should always take priority.

"I think there should be more compassion here in the discussion on abortion, because I think a lot of people are judged by it.

"It's something that I have never ever had to think about for me or my family.

"But if I did, I would like to have the choice."

Not everyone felt the same.

Nurse Nina Cardeno, attending St Patrick's on Donegall Street with her five-year-old son and husband, called the referendum result "sad".

"I wouldn't like to see abortion laws here widened," she stated.

"I'm a nurse, so I believe that as soon as it's planted within the woman's body, then that's already life.

"In those cases when there is no heartbeat, the decision on whether to abort would greatly depend on the mother.

"But I also believe that there would be a special bond between the mother and the child.

"In general I'm opposed, but in certain cases it would depend on both the mother and father.

"It would be on a case-by-case basis."

Also entering the church was Maura McCracken, who spoke about her own experience with her handicapped grandchild.

"I'm not for abortion at all," said Maura, who is in her 70s.

"It doesn't matter what is wrong with the child - I believe it has the right to live. I had a wee physically handicapped grandchild and they told my daughter to turn the machine off and she wouldn't do it, and our Mairead lived for nine years.

"If the law was brought in here I would be afraid that babies like her would be aborted.

"Nine years we went up and down to the hospital, but still, we got an awful lot of love out of her."

At St Colmcille's, Rommel Aguilar (45), who is originally from the Philippines, said that he would be against abortion "in all circumstances."

"I didn't agree with the vote in the south," he said. "In cases of rape, I think it's right for the woman to go on with the life she's carrying, even if it's unwanted.

"For Northern Ireland, it should be the majority who decide - everyone should cast a vote to say what they want.

"It is quite difficult without a government.

"I don't know what's going to happen in Northern Ireland without any leaders."

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