By Sarah Mac Donald - 06 July, 2014
8,000 voice opposition to proposed changes to NI's abortion laws.
Source: Youth Defence
Thousands of pro-life supporters took part in a rally in central Belfast on Saturday to protest against proposed changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.
Under Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, the 1861 Offences against the Person Act, and the Criminal Justice Act 1945, an abortion is only permitted to save a woman’s life, or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.
However, Justice Minister David Ford has said he intends to hold consultations on changing NI’s abortion laws to allow women carrying babies with fatal foetal abnormalities to have a termination as well as pregnancies which result from rape and incest.
According to Youth Defence, which was one of the groups whose members participated, Saturday’s protest was the “biggest ever Belfast pro-life rally” and up to 8,000 people turned out.
Speakers who addressed the crowds said the abortion threat against special needs children was “unacceptable”.
Parents whose children were diagnosed with severe disabilities in the womb said it would be better to provide supports for families, not abortion.
Three mothers whose children had been diagnosed with terminal conditions told the rally of their individual experiences and of the need to raise awareness about conditions such as Trisomy 13 and 18 and anencephaly.
They called for better provision of perinatal hospice care.
According to Gemma Bradley, a campaigner for Trisomy Awareness, many parents have been told that these conditions are “incompatible with life”.
But she affirmed that her baby, Lily Rose, and others with similar conditions are “compatible with love, joy and cherished memories”.
“She was alive, I felt her move, and babies with Trisomy have lived for hours, days and weeks after birth. The length of that life does not make it less of a life,” Ms Bradley said.
Derbhille McGill and Charlene McCabe also shared their love for their babies whose short lives, they said, had brought so much “joy and love”.
Bernadette Smyth of Precious Life said that the proposed changes to the abortion laws would have “devastating effects on mothers and their babies throughout the whole of Ireland” and said that the attempt to target children with special needs was “abhorrent and unacceptable”.
She read a letter from the All Party Committee in Stormont which supported the rally.
Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute told the Rally that abortion campaigners sought to broaden abortion laws by using the distress felt by every family facing such tragic news and such a distressing diagnosis.
“Seeking to push abortion on vulnerable families really is the worst form of discrimination, and for these unborn children, who are severely disabled, this is a lethal form of discrimination,” she said.
She added that the voices of the majority of parents were being ignored in the debate surrounding abortion for babies with disabilities, and that the rally provided an important opportunity to give those families a voice.
“We’re seeking to support families who need compassion and real help, and both governments, north and south, must listen to parents in these situations who want a better answer than abortion,” the Life Institute spokeswoman said.
Referring to the abortion legislation enacted in the Republic last year, she told the huge crowd that “it was an unjust law that had no moral authority and would be overturned”.
Former MEP Dana Rosemary Scallon said that it was “a great turnout, it’s a celebration of life and we want to protect life at all its stages”.