Activists target Sinn Fein office during pro-choice rally

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Activists target Sinn Fein office during pro-choice rally thumbnail

PRO-CHOICE activists took to Sinn Féin's Cookstown office on Thursday last as part of their nationwide protests against Northern Ireland's abortion laws.
Campaigners from social feminist organisation Rosa NI (Reproductive Rights, Against Oppression, Sexism & Austerity) marched down to the party's Burn Road office due to the Pro-Life stance of Mid-Ulster MP Francie Molloy.
Outside the office, members of Rosa and Women on Web gathered in a circle, before lining up in front of the office's entrance chanting, dressed as handmaidens, in reference to the Margaret Atwood novel The Handmaid's Tale about women's rights being stripped away.
Activists spoke at length as part of the 'Bus4choice' rally, which started outside Laganside Courthouse in Belfast, and concluded in Londonderry.
The latest movement comes after the eighth amendment was repealed in the Republic of Ireland abortion referendum, much to the delight of Pro-Choice campaigners.
The Cookstown leg of the rally went down without any major trouble, and there was a small Police presence to oversee the protest.
There was only one heated moment of note after a Pro-Life passer-by made his feelings clear to the activists as he shouted "murderers, f****** murderers, you should be ashamed, the lot of you".
“PRO-LIFE, PRO-LIFE," he continued chanting with a clenched fist as he continued to tirade the procession as he walked past. Before Police could apprehend the man to prevent any trouble breaking out, he disappeared, much to the happiness of the protestors who then responded by chanting in unison.
Speaking to the Mid-Ulster Courier at the protest, organiser of Rosa NI, Courtney Robinson said they will be looking at the south of Ireland for inspiration: "Following the Referendum in the south, not only the abortion referendum but the marriage equality referendum, we can take the lessons and inspirations of those kind of campaigns, that force politicians in to supporting how to choose."
Robinson says the sudden change of mentalities within SDLP and Sinn Féin is not good enough and has led to these protests, and why in particular they targeted Molloy's Cookstown office.
“We had Francie Molloy saying pro-choice campaigners 'were really pushing the boat out now'.
“Only after the repeal outcome in the South, has it proved how much of a backwater Northern Ireland is becoming in terms of politicians and they are coming to terms with that. They don't want to be the only place in Europe, apart from Malta, with such strict abortion rights, as it makes us look like a backwater, and its only after that, that they are changing it," she said.
Francie Molloy remains one of the party's only representatives to speak out publicly against the changing of abortion laws, despite Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and Northern Chief Michelle O'Neill holding up a handwritten poster declaring "The North is next" following the referendum result in the Republic.
Speaking to this newspaper, Molloy discussed the protest and said he's had no contact whatsoever from the activists.
“Everyone is entitled to protest in any given situation, I know full well having protested over issues all of my life. But it doesn't change my opinion and I retain my position as Pro-Life.
“I have no problem talking to anyone and always open to debate issues with anyone, and it is the same for this issue," he said.
“But the group never contacted us in any way, and the reason we knew it was happening was from reading the Courier the week prior, and the Police notifying us.
“There was the protest outside our office, but our office is open to everyone and there was no attempt to speak to us."
He added: "We all have different stances, but what we all want is a caring society which offers care and support for individuals going through these situations."
Acting with the support of web-based abortion pill providers Women on Web and Women on Waves, the pro-choice activists had planned to use remote controlled robots to deliver abortion pills in Cookstown.
But the two small devices were seized by Police, while activists surrendered a number of pills voluntarily, after three women consumed abortion pills in the glare of the media, while being filmed in Belfast.
Robinson said the whole point of the rally was the abortion pills and the Police had no right to stop people taking them.
“The purpose of the rally and the abortion pill bus was to highlight that the pills are available and people can get them, but also that this law is totally unworkable and is futile. It does nothing but criminalise, shame and silence woman who are already having abortions anyway.
“We had three woman who took the pills to highlight how safe, accessible and how they are actually on the Worlds Health Organisations Central Medicines List, which is protected under human rights laws to take those pills.
“I dont think they had any grounds to take it [the robots and pills] and we will actually be going back to the Police to request it back."
She added: "They have come under a lot of pressure from Pro-Life groups who asked them to come on the bus and seize pills etc. Actually the state haven't done anything. It was the same with the drone the last time, which they stood and filmed, but actually I think they realised that this is something that people don't want to see others criminalised for abortions, and that is why they never touched it."
Part of the rally was due to take place at SDLP's Cookstown office, but it was cancelled at the last minute. The party has been in the spotlight recently after it was agreed that members could decide how they vote on abortion at a party conference in Maghera last month.
However, Robinson believes, much like Sinn Féin's new stance, it has come too late. She said: "SDLP's conference, to be honest, was far too little too late, they could have done this months ago, they could have done it years ago."
SDLP's Mid-Ulster representatives made their feelings on the abortion laws very clear in a statement released to the Courier.
“We the SDLP elected representatives for Mid-Ulster place on record that personally, and as public representatives, we are and will remain Pro-Life, and will vote accordingly when the occasion arises.
“Women in crisis pregnancies and their unborn children will have our full support and help where needed, in a compassionate and caring way, to protect the long-term physical and mental health of the mother and her children.
“Some of the statistics from other countries on abortion are truly shocking. Since the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act in GB, in excess of nine million abortions have taken place - so many unique baby girls and boys deprived of a right to life, significantly impacting upon the lives of the women, the fathers and wider family circles too.
“In Denmark 98% of all babies with Down Syndrome are aborted whereas in Iceland it's almost 100%. As a society, we simply cannot allow that uncaring, casual, amoral approach to human life to prevail in any sense.
“Indeed, a number of our elected representatives, MLAs and Councillors were in Monaghan campaigning to retain the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which states 'The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.' - the rights of the mother and her unborn child are so precious to us all," they concluded.
The statement was signed off by: Patsy McGlone MLA, Councillor Martin Kearney, Councillor Sharon McAleer, Councillor Christine McFlynn, Councillor Denise Mullen and Councillor Malachy Quinn.
Robinson, who is a member of Socialist Party and Labour Alternative in East Belfast, responded to the Pro-Life stance of the Mid-Ulster representatives of SDLP, and Francie Molloy.
“They should take note of the referendum in the south. I mean their lies were completely exposed and rejected and so was the misogyny of the campaign. They blatantly lied about the abortion pills and lie about the reasons why woman take them and they should take note that people's attitude are actually far further than they expect them to be and they are going to be changing," she said.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the procedure is not legal, aside from exceptional cases, and Ireland has voted to allow it in early pregnancy, and British Prime Minister Theresa May has come under pressure to legislate for abortion in Northern Ireland since the Stormont Assembly has been suspended for over 12 months.
The activists confirmed there will be more planned marches and more specific work, including stalls and meeting groups in the Mid-Ulster area in the coming months.


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