Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists staged separate protests in Belfast amid an escalating political row over the mandate of abortion services in Northern Ireland.
The small-scale demonstrations in the city center came after DUP First Minister Paul Gevan threatened to block the British government’s move to formally direct Stormont to roll out abortion services entirely in the area.
Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws were liberalized in 2019 after legislation passed by Westminster at a time when the transition of power had collapsed.
The British government introduced regulations to effectuate those changes to the law the following year.
However, more than a year later, the Stormont Department of Health has yet to centrally commission full services due to the impasse within the delegated department.
Early medical abortions have been offered by individual health trusts on an ad hoc basis since last year, but ongoing restrictions on providing the service have resulted in many women continuing to travel to England to access surgical abortions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The anti-abortion DUP blocked consideration of the central assignment in the Stormont Executive.
This forced the British government to introduce new powers to allow Northern Ireland Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to intervene in the case which was mandated to formally direct Stormont to roll out the services.
While Sinn Féin welcomed the government’s intervention as a way out of the impasse, Jeevan sought legal advice on how to “resist” Lewis’ orders.
“pull his feet”
Belfast City Councilwoman Fiona Ferguson helped organize the pro-choice rally in Writer’s Square on Saturday afternoon.
“We are here because the executive branch slows down in the first place for a long time after decriminalization,” a People Before Profit representative told the Palestinian News Agency.
“But now that we know they have been directed by Westminster, frankly and understandably, a lot of activists in Belfast do not trust the executive to act.
“This was reinforced by Paul Gevan’s exit so quickly to say he would try to block abortion services.”
Ms Ferguson added: “I think the DUP may try to take this matter to court, and if they do, [pro-choice] The movement is ready to mobilize to make clear what the vast majority of people here want.
“Those who are trying to prevent abortion, they are not only moving against women’s rights, but also against democracy, because the vast majority of people here have said over and over again that we need abortion services, we want abortion services and we will not tolerate not providing abortion services any longer.”
Across the writer’s square, a number of activists from the organization “Abulish Appointment NI” organized a counter march.
Mark Lambi of the Christian anti-abortion group said the DUP should be prepared to exit the power-sharing administration if the British government is forced to.
He said Mr Lewis had taken “extreme” unprecedented powers in power-sharing settlements across the UK.
“What we are asking for is Robin Swann [Minister for Health] To issue an immediate counter-directive to undo the directives he said [Mr Lewis] We also invite the First Minister to consider his position on the Executive if the Foreign Secretary seeks to implement any additional abortion system in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Lambie.
In nearby downtown Cornmarket, anti-abortion group Precious Life has created temporary artwork using pairs of baby shoes to make up the number 1,556 – signifying the number of abortions that have been performed in Northern Ireland since regulations were introduced last year. – PA
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