SDLP's Hanna tells how she was sent abortion images while in pregnancy
The SDLP's South Belfast Westminster candidate, Claire Hanna, has revealed that she was sent graphic abortion images during the 2017 election campaign while heavily pregnant.
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The mother-of-three, who had suffered a miscarriage earlier in her life, was speaking last night at her election launch in Belfast's Lyric Theatre while a number of anti-abortion protesters, led by Precious Life's Bernadette Smyth, demonstrated outside.
Ms Hanna is considered the favourite to take the South Belfast seat from the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly after Sinn Fein and the Green Party decided to stand aside in order to boost the chances of a pro-Remain politician getting elected.
Refusing to say that Sinn Fein's decision to stand aside for her amounts to an election pact between the two parties, Ms Hanna said that the voters will see it as "unilateral action" in the face of Brexit.
She also declined to comment on Shankill bomber Sean Kelly taking part in Sinn Fein's election canvassing team.
Ms Hanna said accusations of Kelly canvassing for her or the SDLP were "offensive".
Around 10 anti-abortion protesters stood outside the Lyric holding placards which read 'A vote for the SDLP is a vote for abortion'.
The placards also had highly graphic pictures related to abortion printed on them.
Ms Hanna said that while she believes everyone is entitled to make their views known, she revealed that she was sent extreme anti-abortion imagery during the last election when she was 37 weeks pregnant.
"I am somebody who has experienced a miscarriage and my election agent is nine months pregnant," she stated.
"I was sent those pictures in the last election when I was 37 weeks pregnant and they were very offensive.
"I don't believe that they [the protesters] have any moral authority and I don't believe they have any compassion for anybody involved in the debate.
"I don't think they represent many people who hold anti-abortion views."
Ms Smyth said the protest was specifically against Ms Hanna because of her personal views on abortion.
The leading pro-life campaigner claimed that the SDLP could have stopped the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland in October if they had elected a Speaker in the Assembly one day before the changes to the law after a bill was passed at Westminster.
"Claire Hanna is happy enough about the change in the law and, in fact, she welcomed the recent change that was made at Stormont when the Westminster Government forced abortion onto Northern Ireland against the wishes of the people and the politicians," said Ms Smyth.
Both the SDLP's leader Colum Eastwood and the Green Party's Clare Bailey spoke to the audience at the election launch, endorsing Ms Hanna.
Reflecting on the decision by the Greens and Sinn Fein to step aside in South Belfast, Ms Hanna said the idea of every pro-Remain party "ploughing their own furrows" did not get them elected in 2017 and something needed to change.
"I would have been standing either way and seeking the support and the confidence of people who currently vote for every other party," she continued.
"I don't think people do see it as a pact - I think they see it as unilateral action as desperate times call for desperate responses.
"The SDLP unilaterally stood aside - yes, for a Sinn Fein candidate in North Belfast, but also for an Alliance candidate and an independent unionist candidate.
"I think people know that protecting the Remain voice is the most important thing in this election."
She added that the people of South Belfast feel frustrated and let down by their current MP, Ms Little Pengelly, as she had failed to stand up for the constituency in regards to Brexit, stating that she "has championed a very different version of the future".
"I'm going to offer them full-time representation, I'm going to offer them a depth of knowledge of all of the issues in South Belfast, having lived in this community for decades - and I'm going to offer them an in-depth knowledge of Brexit and the strength to deliver that message wherever it is needed," Ms Hanna said.