BY AISLING GALLAGHER
Saturday 7th July saw the annual ‘Rally For Life’ march
through Belfast city centre, where thousands of men, women and children marched through the city supporting the status quo. Abortion remains illegal in both Northern Ireland and Ireland, and every year this march culminates with a rally, accompanied by prayers, speeches and an what seems to be a celebration of the fact that abortion remains illegal here.
This year also saw the first counter-rally, the ‘Rally For Choice’. Representatives from various socialist groups, the Belfast Feminist Network, Alliance For Choice; amongst many others, held a counter-rally at Belfast City Hall in protest of the aforementioned march. The time had come to voice opposition to the status quo.
In Northern Ireland, abortion remains illegal, except in circumstances where the mother’s life is in serious danger. This results in around 40 women travelling to England (and beyond) to carry out terminations somewhere where abortion is not a crime. In 2011, there were 6151 abortions for non-residents carried out in hospitals and clinics in England and Wales (this was the lowest total in any year since 1969). 16% of these non-residents were from Northern Ireland and 67% from the Irish Republic.
At the minute, there remains only one openly pro-choice M
LA in the Northern Irish Assembly. Anna Lo is the Alliance Party MLA for South Belfast. When contacted about the issue, she declared that she believed in a woman’s “right to choose whatever option is right for her… it is her informed choice”. She also said that she believes “it is not equity of treatment for women in Northern Ireland when certain health services are denied to them while freely available for other women in the rest of the UK”.
The MLAs for South Belfast were contacted and asked to comment on the rallies. When contacted, only Ms Lo and SDLP MLA for South Belfast, Conall McDevitt replied. Mr McDevitt replied with the SDLP’s official stance on the issue, echoing the position adopted by the 1984 Party Conference, that they reiterated their “total opposition to abortion and in particular to the proposed extensions of the British 1976 Act to Northern Ireland”.
With QUBSU adopting an official pro-choice stance at the end of the 2011/2012 academic year, and an upcoming NUS-USI referendum (which many believe will be campaigned in relation to this issue alone- NUS-USI also adopted a pro-choice stance at their 2011 conference) on QUBSU’s membership, this issue is one that is not quietening down for students of Queen’s. As an obviously contentious issue, it seems that for the next few months this is one that won’t be going away.Photograph: Tyler McNally