Thousands join opposing rallies on abortion law change

Thousands of people on both sides of the abortion debate took to the streets of Belfast on Saturday.

The Rally for Choice gathered at Writer’s Square in support of recent Westminster legislation to change abortion law.

In July, MPs passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act, which contained a provision placing a duty on the Government to regulate to provide for access to abortion in Northern Ireland.

It comes into effect if the Stormont executive is not restored by October 21, with regulations required to be in place by the end of March.

Marchers held signs and posters which read: “The north is now” – which has become a rallying cry for pro-choice activists after the Republic of Ireland’s landslide referendum to liberalise their own abortion laws in 2018.

Grainne Teggart, of Amnesty International, said the rights of women can no longer be denied.

She added: “Today’s rally comes at a critical time. Following recent law reform at Westminster we will soon have decriminalisation of abortion and free, safe and legal and local services.

“For those facing prosecution this cannot come quickly enough.

“After many years of fighting, we are finally getting the equality we deserve. Any return to Stormont before October 21 must only happen with agreement on abortion reform on exactly the same terms as has been secured at Westminster.

“These rights have been long and hard-fought for, and we will not accept our rights being sacrificed for political expediency.

Abortion law protest
On Friday night, thousands of people staged a silent demonstration at Stormont against the new laws (Rebecca Black/PA)

“The north is now – we are determined to make this a reality.”

Speaking after attending the demonstration, Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin said: “Current legislation in the north is failing women and remains incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The issue of women’s healthcare should be dealt with through legislative change.

“The first step in this process should be the repeal of draconian British legislation which criminalises women.”

The March For Their Lives, an anti-abortion rally, gathered at the nearby Custom House Square.

On Friday night, thousands of people staged a silent demonstration at Stormont against the planned liberalisation of abortion laws.

Protesters gathered at the front gates of the estate before walking up Prince of Wales Avenue to Parliament Buildings.

They stood in silence, with heads bowed and holding lights, for six minutes, to represent the six counties in Northern Ireland.

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