Man and woman become first people charged with illegal abortion protest in Northern Ireland

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A man and woman have today become the first people in Northern Ireland to be charged with an illegal abortion protest.

Charged under recent legislation which designates “safe access zones,” 52-year-old Claire Brennan and David Hall (39) were jointly charged with two offences at Coleraine Magistrates Court.

Brennan is from the Doneysheil Road in Rasharkin and Hall is from Kingsbury Gardens in Coleraine.

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They were both charged with doing an act in a safe access zone at the Causeway hospital on October 3 last year.

The man and woman were both charged with doing an act in a safe access zone at the Causeway hospital on 3 October last year. Photo: GooglemapsThe man and woman were both charged with doing an act in a safe access zone at the Causeway hospital on 3 October last year. Photo: Googlemaps
The man and woman were both charged with doing an act in a safe access zone at the Causeway hospital on 3 October last year. Photo: Googlemaps

The charge was that they “conducted a protest, with the intention, or being reckless as to whether, it would have the effect of influencing a protected person in connection with their attendance at the protected premises” and with failing to comply with a direction to leave the zone on the same date”.

While Brennan attended court and entered not guilty pleas to the two offences, defence solicitor Aidan Carlin explained that Hall was currently an inpatient in hospital so was not in attendance but that in any event, he was entering guilty pleas.

In the first case of its kind to come before an NI court, a prosecuting lawyer outlined how police had been called to the hospital following reports that two people were protesting within the safe access zone.

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Despite “clear signage,” officers found an anti-abortion sign on display and tried to engage with the protectors who ignored their requests to leave, stating they were “morally obligated to protest".

Both were arrested after they finally agreed to leave the zone but not taken into custody, the court heard.

Lodging a plea in mitigation on behalf of Hall, Mr Carlin said the 39-year-old has a “complicated background” and added “my client has mobility issues ... he is confined to a wheelchair and has the benefit of a social worker and support worker. The legislation is complex.

“No particular person complained and police handled the matter very sensitively. Police tried to deal with it by caution, unsuccessfully.”

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Commenting that “this is the first time there has been a prosecution of this nature before the court,” District Judge Peter King said taking into account of the early guilty plea, he was imposing fines totalling £250 along with a £15 offender levy.

In relation to Brennan, the judge adjourned her case to 31 May.

Under The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Act (Northern Ireland) 2023, which received Royal Assent on 6 February 2023, anti-abortion protests and other behaviours are prohibited within any Safe Access Zone once it has been established, and this may be enforced by the PSNI.