Abortion motion ‘fits in with push to curb dissent’

An anti-abortion group has suggested a motion seeking to bar protestors from abortion clinics is part of a broader campaign to “silence any debate on the subject”.

Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 5:00 am
Dawn McAvoy, the co-founder of Both Lives Matter, which emphasises care formothers and the unborn alike

Dawn McAvoy, the co-founder of campaign group Both Lives Matter, was reacting to an item placed before Belfast City Council tonight, which essentially seeks to prevent demonstrators from congregating close to facilities used for terminations.

The motion was moved by Green councillor Aine Groogan, and seconded by UUP councillor Sonia Copeland.

Given the make up of the council, it is likely the motion will pass: Sinn Féin (18), DUP (15), Alliance (10), SDLP (6), Green (4), People Before Profit (£), PUP (2), UUP (2).

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The meeting is expected to go on well into the night.

The motion “notes the increasing occurrence of harassment outside healthcare facilities in Belfast, Newry and across Northern Ireland at healthcare premises”.

It says that “this often includes the display of traumatising graphic anti-choice imagery” (that is, images of aborted foetuses).

It goes on to add: “This Council reaffirms its belief in the right of all individuals to have safe access to healthcare, free from attempts to harass, frighten and intimidate, and supports Clare Bailey MLA’s Private Members Bill to introduce safe access zones around all facilities providing sexual and reproductive health care services and information.”

Ms McAvoy (who also works for the Evangelical Alliance) said: “We want to clearly state that women should not be subject to harassment or intimidation.

“The law rightly provides recourse for prosecution and punishment where such acts cross a criminal threshold.

“We understand that many people may not like or agree with those protesting or offering alternative support, however many calls for ‘exclusion’, ‘buffer’ or ‘safe’ zones may infringe upon legitimate peaceful protest...

“Concerns must not be dismissed by our political representatives purely on the say-so of pro-abortion campaigners.”

She added: “There seems to be a campaign to portray protestors as being inherently harmful, this is unfair and disproportionate.

“In fact we are deeply concerned that these efforts are part of a wider campaign to silence any debate on the subject of abortion.

“In this instance that sadly includes ignoring the stories of women who have changed their minds, because of an encounter with people who have offered real compassion and alternative support.

“But it is unfair, and at odds with human rights legislation, to ban help for vulnerable women when offered responsibly. We should not ban alternative help closest to the places where people may need it most.”

The issue of protest at abortion clinics had previously caused serious ructions within the SDLP contingent on the city council.

Councillors Pat Convery (its group leader), Kate Mullan (deputy leader), and Declan Boyle declined to back a motion on “intimidation” at abortion facilities in 2017, and were suspended from the seven-strong party team on the council.

They all ultimately quit.

Councillor Boyle set out their stance, saying: “I don’t support the harassment or intimidation of anybody, but I do believe in standing up for the rights of the unborn. I’m proud to be pro-life and I’ve absolutely no regrets.”

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