Belfast Telegraph

Surreal drama in city centre

By Victoria Leonard

Passers-by outside Belfast's High Court yesterday could have been forgiven for thinking they had strayed onto the set of a dystopian TV drama.

"No more buses, trains or flights, we demand abortion rights!" was one of the energetic cries which went up.

It came as a group of determined women dressed in the vivid red garb of The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood's disturbing tale of the repression of women's rights in a futuristic dictatorial regime - stood in the shadow of the symbolic centre of Northern Ireland's justice system.

"Hey you legislators, we are not your incubators!" was another favourite chant.

Placards were raised and a large banner was unfurled bearing the message: "We won't be left behind. Abortion rights now!"

Rosa NI's Eleanor Crossey-Malone said her group had decided to wear the red outfits as they made "a powerful statement".

"The handmaid costume has become a really powerful symbol," she said. "The idea of the state having the ability to force someone to remain pregnant, using women as vessels to procure children.

"We're using that symbol because it's a very powerful statement, it resonates with a lot of women here, it resonates with a lot of pregnant people here that are in crisis pregnancies."

Nearby, a heavy police presence served as a reminder of the potential real-world consequences.

Just metres away from the group of around 30 mainly female protesters, four PSNI Land-Rovers were stationed.

Officers stood alongside TV crews to record the protesters' actions.

As the protest got under way, pro-life activists from Precious Life, bearing placards emblazoned with pictures of dead foetuses, arrived.

In response, the chants of the pro-choice activists grew louder.

Precious Life's Bernadette Smyth condemned the event as "a publicity stunt that will fizzle out" and warned that there would be "an opposition campaign here in Northern Ireland".

Rivalling the protesters in numbers were the media, who had flocked to the well-publicised event from across the UK and Ireland. With pro-life and pro-choice protesters competing for air time and police approaching demonstrators, journalists were literally running to keep up.

At one point, the media scrum became so intense that a reporter almost lost his footing after colliding with an unforgiving pillar.

As three pro-choice protesters consumed the abortion pills, surrounded by a circle of women in handmaids' red cloaks, police stood just feet away, filming.

The protesters then marched with their heads down, in twos, shouting slogans as they crossed the road at Laganside Courts to board the bus bound for Lisburn.

It made for a surreal scene in the centre of Belfast - and one which could be repeated in other towns.

Organiser Ms Crossey-Malone revealed that the group would "definitely think about" bringing the Bus4Choice all around Northern Ireland in the future "if we don't have change in the immediate term".

Belfast Telegraph

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