Rival rallies to avoid each other in Belfast as pro-choice supporters alter their route
Rival rallies backing and opposing the reform of Northern Ireland's abortion laws will avoid each other in Belfast city centre on Saturday after a late decision by pro-choice campaigners to alter the route of their march.
The Rally for Choice and March for their Lives had both been set to start at 2pm, with pro choice supporters leaving Writer's Square and the anti abortion march from Custom House Square.
March for their Lives will still gather at Custom House Square at 2pm, but the protest walk will not begin until closer to 3pm.
The Rally for Choice supporters are also taking a shorter route to complete their march earlier than planned as the two groups seek to avoid any clash in the city centre.
Leaving first will be the Rally for Choice and, according to one of the lead organisers, the message remains the same.
"This is far from the first time we have organised a rally or a static protest and our demands have not changed; we want free, safe, legal and local abortion access for anyone who needs it in Northern Ireland," said Elaine Crory.
"The 'local' part of that demand is important, because already on average 20 people travel to Britain every week and access abortion on the NHS.
"This is alongside use of abortion pills bought online. Maintaining the near total ban here doesn't prevent people from having abortions, it only makes it a difficult, expensive, arduous and often secretive process, shrouded in stigma, which causes much suffering that could be alleviated with a change in the law.
"There's also much sadness for all the unnecessary suffering, shame, stigma, the whole ugly history of how this country has treated women for far too long."
Meanwhile, the March for their Lives will hear how changes to the Northern Ireland laws will leave the country with "one of the most cruel and extreme abortion regimes in the world".
"Thousands of voiceless and defenceless future unborn babies need the people to be their voice," said Bernadette Smyth, of organisers, Precious Life. "If we don't speak up for them, then who will? This could be the last chance we will have to rise up and make a stand against Westminster's horrific abortion act."