Marching to a different beat - two differing voices set out their view on NI abortion law
Unless the Stormont Executive reconvenes by October 21, abortion will be decriminalised in Northern Ireland. Here, the organisers behind two demonstrations in Belfast tomorrow — one pro-life, the other pro-choice — set out their case.
Elaine Crory, Rally for Choice: We will rest only when anyone who needs an abortion here in NI can have access to one
We called a Rally for Choice this year for a number of reasons. The simplest reason is always 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.
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.
As with the referendum in the Republic on the Eighth Amendment, the horse has bolted. 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.
It also means that the most vulnerable suffer the most. Access has always been a class issue and we will rest only when anyone who needs an abortion can have one.
We believe that this suffering matters and so we should offer this essential form of healthcare here at home. This is aside from the so-called 'hard cases', involving fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crimes. Those are often dismissed with a hand-wave, because 'hard cases make bad laws'.
Well, we say that bad laws make hard cases.
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Of course, we are now closer to seeing our demands become a reality than at any time in recent years, but that's not a reason to take the proverbial foot off the pedal.
Those who oppose this law often frame it as both an overreach that disrespects devolution - although human rights have never been devolved and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) has said that the UK is in breach of its obligations because of this law - and especially that it does not reflect the actual desires of people in Northern Ireland. This is simply untrue.
The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey shows that 89% of people do not want to see people criminalised for having an abortion. The vote held in Belfast City Council on Monday explicitly to support our rally shows that most of our elected councillors support our position, too.
This rally is a visual way to demonstrate the level of support we have from all sections of the community here and show that we care about the suffering of those who have been forced to travel.
After our rally in 2017, Nelson McCausland wrote in this newspaper that he found the tone of the rally distasteful, likening it to a "pumped-up street party". In truth, there is always an element of joy to coming together in community to make a positive change, but there is more to it than that.
There are people of my parents' generation who have been working for this longer than I've been alive. That fight causes anger and frustration.
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. It may be tough to look at for some people, but it's vitally important.
Bernadette Smyth, Precious Life: If we don’t speak up for those voiceless and defenceless unborn babies, then who will?
Precious Life, as part of a coalition of pro-life groups, have organised the March For Their Lives at Belfast's Custom House Square tomorrow (2pm).
On July 24, the Westminster Parliament passed an undemocratic law to force abortion on Northern Ireland.
The legislation, contained in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019, means that, unless the Stormont Executive is reconvened by October 21, 2019, abortion will be legalised here.
This new law will legalise abortion up to the seventh month of pregnancy and, in certain circumstances, even up to birth.
This would be one of the most cruel and extreme abortion regimes in the world.
At this critical time, thousands of voiceless and defenceless future unborn babies need the people of Northern Ireland to be their voice. If we don't speak up for them, then who will?
It is vital that every pro-life person in Northern Ireland, who cherishes the right to life, comes out in large numbers to attend this March For Their Lives and witness to the most fundamental of all human rights.
This could be the last chance we will have to rise up and make a stand against Westminster's horrific Abortion Act.
The March For Their Lives will give the people of Northern Ireland an opportunity to show Stormont and the Westminster Government - and, indeed, the entire world - that the people of Northern Ireland firmly say abortion is not in our name.
Thousands of people from across Northern Ireland are expected to join this major pro-life march to oppose this horrific and undemocratic law.
Precious Life say resistance to the imposition of abortion in Northern Ireland is drawing support from across the traditional divide in the province.
In recent weeks, we have seen a determined opposition to this horrific legislation in staunchly nationalist areas, such as west Belfast, where Sinn Fein voters were appalled that the party was inviting British direct rule, and equally staunch resistance from unionist communities, which have long agreed that abortion should remain a devolved issue.
The March For Their Lives will hear from a number of speakers from Northern Ireland. They will include Baroness Nuala O'Loan, a member of the House of Lords, who has strongly opposed the move to impose abortion on the people of Northern Ireland.
More than 20,000 people signed a letter co-authored by Baroness O'Loan, expressing their opposition to this law.
The March For Their Lives will also hear from well-known Belfast cleric Fr Paddy McCafferty, who has attracted widespread media attention for his outspoken defence of the unborn child.
Just last week, Fr McCafferty released a widely publicised response to Sinn Fein's answer to the thousands of voters who have written to protest their support for abortion, accusing Sinn Fein of treachery.
A young mother from Northern Ireland who risked her life to carry her unborn baby to term will also be addressing the march, among other speakers.
We hope to see you there.