Belfast Telegraph

Opposing factions of abortion debate gather at Stormont

Naomi Connor
Naomi Connor
Shannon Hunt
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

At one stage yesterday pro-life and pro-choice activists stood face to face on the Stormont driveway like two armies about to enter into battle.

Each side held banners displaying their strong, passionate, fiercely-held views and wore their hearts on their sleeves.

Throughout the morning the rosary was heard being mumbled on the hill on one side while women asked that people 'kept their rosaries off my ovaries' on the other.

Leading the pro-choice charge was Amnesty International's Grainne Taggart.

She has been by the side of Belfast mother Sarah Ewart, who recently won a High Court case finding Northern Ireland's abortion laws breached the UK human rights commitments. Sarah had challenged the law after she was denied a termination.

Leading the pro-life army was Precious Life's Bernie Smyth, who described the new law as "a document of death".

The women, polar opposites, were joined by a dozens of supporters, among them two Northern Irish women with drastically opposing views.

Shannon Hunt, a 26-year-old mother from Killyleagh in Co Down, travelled to Stormont with her young son to join the Pro-Life rally.

"I'm with the pro-life activists," she said. "I am here standing up for the unborn. It is important for me to be here because a baby is fully formed at 12 weeks, with their eyes, eyelashes, fingernails and so on.

"I think that seven months is far too gone into the pregnancy for an abortion. I have always been pro-life. I believe that from the moment of fertilisation, that is a person and I have always been very vocal about that."

Shannon described the bill as "atrocious". She added: "It's too extreme and will turn Northern Ireland into the abortion capital of Europe. Everywhere else the abortion limit is 24 weeks and it will be 28 weeks here."

Among the pro-choice activists was Belfast woman Naomi Connor (47). She said she knew she had to fight for the rights of women after having to go to England for an abortion six years ago. "We know today will mark a historic day in Northern Ireland for women and pregnant people who have had to travel for years to access abortion," she said.

"I am one of those people. I made my own journey a number of years ago because I was unable to access abortion here in Northern Ireland. I was forced to travel to a clinic in Manchester after I found out I was pregnant around six years ago and I didn't want to continue with the pregnancy.

"Very often people will say to me, 'why did you want an abortion?' And I will say that I don't think any woman wants an abortion. I needed an abortion.

"We have seen more and more women over the last couple of years finally able to say that it happened to them too. I made the same journey as many women have. I did it in secrecy and shame with a stigma attached. We can pretend women in Northern Ireland aren't having abortions.

"They are, but are forced to travel in order to. That situation is inhumane."

Speaking at Stormont yesterday, Sarah Ewart said it was a defining day for Northern Ireland women. She added: "The law changing today will not fix what I had to go through, but it will make it better for those who are coming after me. It's massively emotional.

"The whole six years has been a massive emotional rollercoaster but today is more a big relief."

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