Belfast anti-abortion demonstration draws thousands

Rally for Life says lives of the unborn must be protected at all stages

Thousands gathered in city centre Belfast today for the Rally for Life demonstration. Photograph: Gerry Moriarty

Thousands gathered in city centre Belfast today for the Rally for Life demonstration.

Bernadette Smyth of the Precious Life group in Northern Ireland said the gathering was sending out messages to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the North's justice minister David Ford "that the lives of the unborn must be protected" at all stages.

Ms Smyth said that the rally was a clear demonstration that the majority of people in the Republic did not want any moves that would liberalise abortion legislation in the Republic. “Our clear message to the Taoiseach is that people will not be silenced when the lives of unborn children are at risk,” she said.

Ms Smyth added that the rally was also telling the Alliance leader and the North’s justice minister Mr Ford that he should not attempt to bring in legislation that would allow for abortion in cases of foetal abnormality.


Mr Ford is considering amending elements of current abortion legislation in Northern Ireland to allow for abortion in cases of foetal abnormality.

In the North the British 1967 Abortion Act does not apply. Under current abortion legislation in the North foetal abnormality is not recognised as a ground for abortion in itself, although if it were found to constitute a serious threat to the physical or mental health of the woman it would be.

Ms Smyth said that unborn babies with foetal abnormalities should have the same legal protections as anyone else. “The main message here is that people are rising up and standing up for life,” said Ms Smyth. About 4,000 people attended the rally.

On foetal abnormality Niamh Ui­ Bhriain of the Life Institute said 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.

Ms Ui Bhriain said that the voices of the majority of parents were being ignored in the debate surrounding abortion for babies with disabilities, and that the rally was providing these families with 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,” she added.

Dana Rosemary Scallon told the crowd that there existed a “secular humanist global agenda which has no resection for the sovereignty of nations” and which sought to bring in widespread abortion. “We must stand up for life,” she said.

Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland where “it is necessary to preserve the life of the woman or there is a risk of real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health, which is either long term or permanent”. About 40 such legal abortions take place in Northern Ireland each year.

The abortion issue came to public prominence again last year after two women, one carrying twins, disclosed that their babies had anencephaly and that under Northern Ireland law they could not have abortions in the North. With anencephaly there is an absence of a major part of the brain, skull and scalp in the foetus. Babies are stillborn or usually die within a few hours or days.

They appealed to the Minister for Health to change the law in such cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Mr Ford is examining whether the law should be changed to allow for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and also in cases of rape and incest.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times