DUP councillors back government curbs on anti-abortion protests

Both DUP and UUP councillors have backed a motion which effectively calls for government curbs on anti-abortion protests, with a Sinn Fein councillor suggesting that such demonstrations could lead people to kill themselves.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 7:45 am
Updated Thursday, 6th May 2021, 9:40 am
Kathryn Owen, Roisin Howell, David Taylor

The motion was raised at a meeting of Newry, Mourne, and Down District Council on Tuesday night, and was moved by Roisin Howell, a Sinn Fein councillor.

The backing for it was so strong that it was nodded through without a formal vote being taken.

The motion is just one of many which have come before councils and assemblies UK-wide in recent years, seeking to curtail protests near abortion facilities, often on the grounds that photographs of terminated foetuses used by demonstrators are graphic and bloody.

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The motion put before Newry, Mourne and Down councillors this week reads as follows: “This council believes that any member of the public accessing healthcare services is entitled to do so free of abuse, fear and intimidation and will write to both the health minister and the justice minister asking them to take steps to ensure this.”

“This motion isn’t about abortion,” Ms Howell said. “We respect everyone’s right to protest and to choose.

“However, protesting at the entrances to healthcare sites in recent weeks have had major repercussions for a range of people across our community.”

She added that “some of the slogans and images can be very triggering” and her aim was to ensure the welfare of children and “the vulnerable”.

She then recounted a story she said she had heard from a woman who had lost a child to suicide.

The woman’s remaining children “both suffer from serious mental health problems, and are required to regularly attend the mental health unit in Daisy Hill”, she said.

This woman “expressed her genuine fears that these protests will have a detrimental impact on her children, and asked for them to be moved as soon as possible as she could not take the risk of having to bury another child”.

DUP councillor Kathryn Owen told the meeting “the DUP grouping will be more than happy” to back the motion.

She continued: “We also agree wholeheartedly that people have a right to protest, but we feel that protest should be done in a respectful and a dignified manner.

“I personally believe all graphic banners should be stopped.”

She said that at age 44 she still finds herself “traumatised” by images at anti-vivisection protests.

She also stated that while hard-hitting government drink-driving adverts are moderated by OFCOM, there is no such moderation for private individuals who protest.

UUP councillor David Taylor said: “We do recognise anyone’s right to protest; that’s given in any democracy.

“But in doing so it must always be done in a respectful and responsible manner ...

“This is about ensuring people do feel in a comfortable way that they’re able to access facilities, that they’re not under any fear or intimidation.”

The SDLP and Alliance also backed the motion.

When a similar motion was brought before Belfast City Council in 2017, it caused a major rift in the city’s SDLP team.

Three SDLP councillors – including the leader and deputy – abstained on the motion, and all of them ultimately left the party as a result.

Read more from this reporter at the links below:

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