Protests should be allowed outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland

News Letter editorial of Thursday March 3 2022:
News Letter editorialNews Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

It is only a small number of years ago that there was a push to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of what was called ‘fatal foetal abnormalities’.

Supporters of that plan almost invariably presented it as a limited and necessary compassionate reform.

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Barely any Stormont politicians admitted to support for abortion on demand.

Yet now, after hysterical claims in London and Belfast about local political resistance to liberalising of the law around terminations in the Province, including bogus legal and moral claims that protecting the right of the foetus was an attack on the rights of women, we do indeed have abortion on demand.

This unfettered access to a termination only applies in the first third of a pregnancy, but the gentle legal designation of abortions after that period could in effect lead to abortions on demand until late in a pregnancy, as is the position in Great Britain (where the law in practice is much more permissive than it is in statute).

But a radical liberalisation of the abortion laws in Northern Ireland is not enough for our devolved MLAs.

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They want to place strict limits on the ability of those who are appalled at the new laws to protest against them.

It is entirely reasonable for someone to think that abortion is deeply wrong because it ends the life of an emerging human being. It is obviously reasonable, therefore, to want to protest outside facilities where such terminations take place.

Such protests must always be peaceful and should never be allowed to be intimidatory.

Yet Stormont the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill is not merely seeking to enshrine limits on protests, in order to ensure they do not tip into intimidation, but it could be used to corral protestors so far from abortion clinics as to negate the right to free protest.

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It is bad legislation that will set an unacceptable precedent, and MLAs should drop their support for it.

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