Campaigners confront UK women with abortion protests

The world is focusing on the US's abortion rights following the repeal of Roe v Wade, but women in Northern Ireland still have difficulty accessing services.

Campaigners confront UK women with abortion protests

The world is focusing on the US's abortion rights following the repeal of Roe v Wade, but women in Northern Ireland still have difficulty accessing services. Protesters are encouraged by the success of those who visit abortion clinics.

Uncompromising placards are held by men at the hospital entrance.

They state in large red letters that "Abortion IS murder". Another protester, Against Abortion NI, said "Global Holocausts".

A different group of men, mostly males, is standing on the other side of Newry's Daisy Hill Hospital holding rosary beads. They are also praying and displaying images of the Virgin Mary. They repeat the verses repeatedly, unassisted, and without pausing.

Some hospitals in Northern Ireland have been witness to these anti-abortion protests from groups representing both the Catholic or Protestant faiths.

"What women tell us is that it can be really scary to go up to these gates," says Fiona. Fiona volunteers to be a chaperone for women. In response to the protests that began after abortion was made illegal in 2019, Fiona helped create Supporting Women Newry.

Protesters believe they are doing a valuable job.

One man who did not want to be identified said, "We're informing public," "Doctors don't have the right to choose who lives or dies. They are not gods," he said. They recount how one clinic was shut down following their protest. This they consider a success.

Since the law was changed, more than 3,000 abortions were performed in Northern Ireland. Last year, 161 women flew from Northern Ireland to get abortions. However, there are not enough services to meet the demand. This is a marked decrease from 2018 (year before decriminalization), when over 1,000 women traveled to England for the procedure.

Disagreements between political parties have caused delays in increasing provision. The DUP has obstructed efforts to move services forward.

The UK government gave Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland Secretary, new powers by which he can force the health service into setting up more services to end the impasse. He plans to use these powers within the next few weeks.

Women who are able to get to the clinics encounter often anti-abortion protestors.

Another chaperone Cara says that the group has been contacted numerous times by people who visit the hospital to protest the sometimes very graphic protests.

She says that people are coming in for counselling after stillbirths or miscarriages. It's intimidating and harassment if you go in to get any treatment. This is a multi-use facility.

There are many ways to combat illegal activity in the UK. In 2018, the UK established the first buffer zone outside of an abortion clinic in Ealing, London. This was due to concerns about welfare. These buffer zones were created in the hope that they would be commonplace. However, only two additional buffer zones have been established since then.

A law that would prohibit groups from protesting directly outside of a heath facility has been passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The attorney general of Northern Ireland has referred it to the Supreme Court to determine if it is in conflict with the right to protest.

The UK government has stated that it is currently reviewing the issue in England, Wales and Scotland. Meanwhile, the first minister of Scotland said earlier this week that legislation would be passed in order to enforce the zones.

Protests are also held at Craigavon Hospital where Ashleigh Topley was regularly admitted during her first pregnancy. She was informed at one visit that her baby was suffering from a fatal foetus abnormality. She requested an abortion, but it was not allowed because it was before the law changed.

"Those appointments, some were very, very difficult. She said that if she had to go through the protesters' gauntlet, it would have made them worse.

She said that it was extremely traumatizing to have to carry her 35-week-old pregnancy. It was obvious that she was pregnant.

People would be curious to know if you are excited. What kind of excitement are you experiencing? Sometimes, I would tell her the truth and say she was going mad. Sometimes I would lie and pretend that everything was fine," she said.

Ashleigh claims that if Ashleigh had been allowed to have an abortion, she would have had greater control. "Waiting, waiting and waiting was hardship. It was an unnecessary hardship that added to one of the worst periods in our lives. She feels for those women who must pass the protesters.

"The grief and experience they are going through is so immediate and recent that it's so cruel."

The landmark Roe v Wade decision was overturned by the US Supreme Court last week. This transformed abortion rights in America and allowed individual states to ban it. This has encouraged anti-abortion groups to feel inspired by the events in Northern Ireland.

A man outside the clinic said that a woman who comes in has made a decision. "Some women will thank us in two years, or even 10 years."

He asked if they were adding to the woman’s suffering. He says, "This is compassion." "Compassion for the child."

The British Supreme Court will order Northern Ireland's health system to offer more abortion services in the future. British Supreme Court judges will decide what experience women will have when they enter the hospital.

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