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'We're unstoppable': Large crowds protest in Belfast for change to Northern Ireland abortion law

The DUP’s Arlene Foster has said that it was up to the North’s politicians to decide on its abortion laws.

Ireland abortion laws Large crowds took to the streets of Belfast this afternoon calling for a change to Northern Ireland's abortion legislation. Source: Niall Carson via PA Images

Updated at 9.45pm

A LARGE CROWD of demonstrators took to the streets of Belfast this evening calling for a change to abortion legislation in Northern Ireland.

After the results of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment referendum last weekend, campaigners and politicians have been turning their attention to the North, where abortion is illegal except in cases where the woman’s life or health is at risk.

Abortion without restriction is legal in Great Britain, meaning Northern Ireland will be the only region on the island of Ireland and the UK where pregnancy terminations in most cases are banned.

Ireland abortion laws Source: Niall Carson via PA Images

This evening’s march, which saw crowds gather outside Belfast’s City Hall, was organised by a group called Solidarity with Repeal, who are calling for a change to abortion laws in the North.

In a statement on its Facebook event, Solidarity with Repeal said: “We won’t stand by as the only region in the UK and Ireland that continues to persecute pregnant people.

“Join us and have your voice heard. Let’s use the momentum from Repeal to ignite the fight for choice in the North.”

Ireland abortion laws Source: Niall Carson via PA Images

Speaking to the BBC at the march, activist Shannon Patterson from Derry said: “It’s time that Northern Ireland joins the rest of the world. It’s time to progress.

“We’re an all-Ireland movement, we’re unstoppable.”

Recent events have put pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May, and a number of MPs have called for abortion laws in Northern Ireland to be brought in line with the rest of the UK.

But May has responded to those calls by saying that the issue is for the North to decide.

Currently, there is no government in Northern Ireland. The Stormont Assembly collapsed early last year after Martin McGuinness withdrew from the joint-government between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

A succession of talks and negotiations have failed to reestablish the Assembly since.

Ireland abortion laws Source: Niall Carson via PA Images

‘Taking notes’

Following the outcome of Ireland’s abortion referendum, DUP leader and former Stormont Assembly First Minister Arlene Foster said that they were “taking note” of the results of the Republic’s referendum, with 66% voting in favour of liberalising its abortion laws.

Foster, whose party is pro-life, said that there was no constitutional bar on abortion in the North, meaning the issue was a matter for politicians to debate.

(If there’s a provision or protection for something in the constitution, it can only be removed or amended if the public votes to do so in a referendum.)

Ireland abortion laws Source: Niall Carson via PA Images

Foster said:

“The legislation governing abortion is a devolved matter and it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide such issues. Some of those who wish to circumvent the Assembly’s role may be doing so simply to avoid its decision.”

The DUP is a pro-life party and we will continue to articulate our position. It is an extremely sensitive issue and not one that should have people taking to the streets in celebration.

“I want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly restored and put no preconditions on the immediate establishment of an Executive. Some of those demanding change are the same people blocking devolution or demanding that Westminster change the law whilst simultaneously opposing Direct Rule.”

Ahead of the referendum vote, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that if the Yes vote prevailed, women in Northern Ireland could travel south for terminations.

In an interview with The Irish Times, she said that women and girls in the North faced the same problems with crisis pregnancies as women and girls in the Republic did.

“I would imagine in a scenario where we have a Yes vote, in a scenario where we legislate to have the service available, I would imagine that women would access services across the Border.”

The Guardian is reporting that activists from Rosa (Reproductive Rights, Against Oppression, Sexism & Austerity) will hand out abortion pills from a bus touring Northern Ireland this week.

With reporting by Hayley Halpin. 

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