Belfast Telegraph

Rally for Choice organisers 'delighted' with council's support for Belfast march

Bernadette McAliskey
Bernadette McAliskey
Fiona Ferguson

By Laura Kelly

Organisers of this weekend's Rally for Choice event have said they are "delighted" with Belfast City Council's decision to support them.

Councillors this week voted to 'welcome and support' the rally on Saturday.

A motion debated at City Hall this week noted the recent Westminster amendment, which will decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland on October 21, unless an Executive is formed before that date.

It was brought by People Before Profit councillor Fiona Ferguson, who said she wanted to give the council the opportunity to welcome the Westminster amendments.

The motion was debated at Monday night's council meeting.

It stated that the council "welcomes and supports the Rally for Choice on September 7, 2019, as an expression of public protest against the current law and the need to ensure decriminalisation of abortion so that no other woman or healthcare professional faces the prospect of arrest and prosecution over the procurement of necessary reproductive healthcare services".

Thirty-four members of the council voted supported the rally, whilst 14 members voted against - three did not vote. DUP members voted against the motion.

Elaine Crory, one of the organisers of Saturday's rally, said: "I can't say how much this means, their support means a great deal and shows that the public is with us as this was a democratic vote by our recently elected representatives."

Saturday's event, which is organised by Rally for Choice along with Northern Ireland's two biggest pro-choice groups, Alliance for Choice and Alliance for Choice Derry, will feature various speakers to talk about the issue of abortion.

One of the key speakers will be Bernadette McAliskey, a prominent civil rights activist.

Ms Crory added: "Our main message is that we demand free, safe, legal and local abortion. We're aware of the legislation in Westminster back in July, but it's not a done deal until it's a done deal. We want it known that people in Northern Ireland do want this [decriminalisation].

"I want to empathise that it's not ideal that this decision has come through Westminster, although it is their duty, but we will take this change in law in whatever way we can."

While pro-life supporters are due to hold a silent protest outside Stormont tomorrow evening, a separate March For Their Lives rally has been organised by Precious Life.

Bernadette Smyth, from the anti-abortion group, said: "We're expecting thousands of people, from every tradition, to attend the march because people are outraged that the Parliament at Westminster has hijacked the democratic process and sought to impose abortion on the people of Northern Ireland."

Mara Clarke, founder of Abortion Support Network, who is currently in Malta working alongside Young Progressive Beings, a new organisation created after the first pro-choice event in Valletta by young women back in June, sent her wishes for those attending the Belfast Rally for Choice.

She said: "Abortion Support Network stands behind all those attending Rally for Choice.

"Whether people are attending in person or in spirit, we are all saying, loudly and often, that it's time for women and pregnant people in Northern Ireland to be able to access abortion safely, freely and without having to get on a plane or risk criminal prosecution.

"While travelling abroad to access abortion is possible for some people, it's a poor excuse for a solution and has a catastrophic impact on those unable to travel.

"It's time we end this situation and bring free, safe, legal and local abortion to Northern Ireland now."

The Rally for Choice starts at 2pm at Writers' Square.

The March For Their Lives rally also starts at 2pm, beginning at Custom House Square.

Ms Crory said there was no intention of the two marches crossing paths, adding: "We're not interested in a clash or conflict ... We want no interaction between us."

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