Abortion opponents ‘open to talks on common ground’

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Two leading figures on opposite sides of Northern Ireland’s abortion debate have said they are open to discussing common interests in support of vulnerable women.

The news comes after the conviction this week in Belfast of a woman who was given a three-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months, for inducing her own miscarriage using abortion drugs.

Goretti Horgan of Alliance for Choice

Goretti Horgan of Alliance for Choice

The developments caused heated public debate. However when asked by the News Letter, two leading commentators - Goretti Horgan of Alliance for Choice and Marion Woods of Life NI [pictured above] - agreed they may have common interests they could discuss.

Ms Horgan said that out of all the Northern Ireland women who travel to England for abortion, she understands that “over half” were using contraception when they became pregnant - while the rest were not using any.

Asked if there was the potential for working with pro-life groups to help prevent such women falling pregnant while not using contraception, she replied: “Absolutely there is definitely potential there for such a conversation, although I am not very confident that they [pro-life groups] will be interested.”

A major factor which makes women feel they cannot support a baby, she said, would be child poverty - an issue she campaigns on.

“We never see any anti-abortionists at rallies about this,” she added.

Other areas of potential common ground to lobby on, she says, are child benefit cuts, threats to Family Planning Clinics and the fact that Northern Ireland is the only UK region without a child poverty strategy and subsidised child care.

Marion Woods, public policy spokeswoman for Life NI, said the idea was new territory. “Absolutely, I can see there is common ground on both sides to help the woman.”

She added; “I have always been interested in conversations with those who disagree with us and will be happy to meet Goretti. It does not necessarily mean we will agree.”

While her organisation already helps individual women in poverty, she is open to conversations on the broader poverty issues and the threat of closure to family planning clinics, she said.

She could also see how her group could, in principle, provide preventative educational support for women who later end up with unwanted pregnancies through lack of contraception.

Ms Horgan criticised pro-life groups which she felt “preach abstinence” for contraception, but Ms Woods said her group teaches all options - and their full consequences.