Hundreds of pro-choice activists have vowed to hit Northern Ireland like a “seismic wave” as they stepped up their bid for change with a Belfast rally.
A campaign of civil disobedience to the country’s tight restrictions is due to be launched with a bus journey from the city to Londonderry on Thursday and protests outside the offices of the main political parties including the DUP.
A group calling itself Solidarity with Repeal held a demonstration at Belfast City Hall on Monday evening following the resounding Irish yes vote to liberalisation. It was attended by several hundred protesters bearing placards and chanting.
Speaker Eleanor Crossey Malone from Rosa, a socialist feminist movement, said: “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 Northern Ireland.
“We still have a draconian abortion ban in the North and we have a fight ahead of us.”
Abortions are outlawed in nearly all cases in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK or Ireland where the prohibition is maintained following Friday’s repeal vote in the Irish referendum.
Rosa has organised action before using what it calls safe but illegal abortion pills obtained on the internet, to prevent politicians from “sweeping the issue under the carpet”.
Ms Crossey Malone added: “We want to highlight how widely these pills are used.”
On Thursday protesters will board buses in Belfast and head for Londonderry while protesting at the offices of the DUP, SDLP, UUP and Sinn Fein.
She said: “The eyes of the world will be on us.
“We won’t wait until the DUP is ready, we won’t wait until it is politically expedient for Sinn Fein.
“We want abortions now and we will fight until we get them.”
Slogans in the crowd included a depiction of a womb with the legend “Mind Your Own Uterus” as well as “I am not a Vessel.”
Another claimed the DUP had been embarrassing Northern Ireland since its foundation in 1971.
Ms Crossey Malone added: “We are saying how dare the state tell us what to do with our bodies.”
Protesters held images of Savita Halappanavar, the Indian dentist whose death after she was refused a termination during a miscarriage in Ireland electrified the repeal movement.
They travelled from Donegal, Dublin, Drogheda and Londonderry and chanted messages about breaking the silence and decrying the DUP’s anti-abortion position.
Event organiser Fiona Ferguson said Ireland’s vote had changed the face of Irish society.
Among those attending was Patricia Magee, 34, from Belfast.
She said: “Given the referendum in the Republic, Northern Ireland is now seriously dragging behind the rest of Europe in terms of women’s health care and rights and we are very frustrated that nothing is being done to address this.
“The Northern Ireland Assembly need to get their act together, they need to get back to work and start addressing this basic health care issue.
“It is not black and white, there are very many women with different circumstances who need the right health care, they should not have to go across the water for it and hopefully the momentum from the South will carry on up North and hopefully address these issues.”
Meanwhile, a woman who aborted her baby after being told the infant would not survive has urged the Democratic Unionists to walk a mile in her shoes.
Sarah Ewart left Northern Ireland for a termination in England in 2013 in the most “traumatic” of circumstances.
She has fought a long legal battle to liberalise abortion law in Northern Ireland in the face of opposition from the country’s largest unionist party and would like to see Mrs May step in.
Ms Ewart said: “I would just say to the DUP, walk a mile in our shoes before you make a judgment, because it is very difficult and a very devastating time and it is very traumatic to have to travel when you are grieving for a baby and thinking about going away, it is just awful.”