Rally For Choice - A Celebration and a Demand for Change!
Long before Westminster voted to lift the ban on abortion in Northern Ireland, Rally For Choice activists had been planning a huge event for Belfast. With the news that a change in law was on the cards we were even more determined to invite people on to the streets for two reasons. First of all we knew many abortion rights campaigners had worked hard for this legal development and we deserved to celebrate all we had achieved. Secondly, nothing is guaranteed until we see regulations in place and accessible services that will meet the needs of everyone here who needs abortion care.
We were delighted as thousands of people took to the streets of Belfast on 7th September on a beautiful afternoon to join us in those 2 goals. People travelled from all over Ireland, Kildare, Galway, Donegal, Leitrim, Drogheda, and even Cork! There was a strong sense of campaigners wanting to return the solidarity that had been shown to them during the repeal campaign last year and a desire to make sure Northern Ireland isn't left isolated as the only corner of these islands with such restrictive law.
The atmosphere was loud, engaging, defiant, celebratory and fun. The Chidambaram all-woman samba band kept our energy high throughout, and the watching public waved and applauded in solidarity with many taking photos or choosing to join in. When the rally arrived back at Writer's Square the atmosphere became reflective and emotional as local band Saint Sister sang a beautiful cover of the Cranberries song Dreams. The speeches started in a similar style as Alliance for Choice and Rally for Choice activist, and Women's Sector Lobbyist, Kellie Turtle spoke to the crowd about ending abortion stigma. She asked everyone to hold hands and reminded us that we are all connected to someone who has had an abortion - 'we have nothing to be ashamed of and we will not stop fighting for our rights.'
Shannon Patterson spoke on behalf of Alliance For Choice Derry, a group that had been heavily involved in canvassing voters during the repeal referendum and have recently been winning new support in the North West. The other speeches highlighted the intersectional issues connected to abortion rights and reproductive justice that we always need to include in our activism. Clare Moore spoke about abortion as a worker's issue and drew parallels with the campaign for marriage equality for LGBT people. Faolan Hook talked about how trans and non-binary people are affected by restrictive abortion law compounded by the many other barriers they face to accessing healthcare generally. Hamsavani Rajeswaren talked about women of colour and reminded the crowd that the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway in 2012 should drive us to support women of colour in addressing the added discrimination they face. Ivanka Antova addressed the issues for migrant women such as the asylum seeking women in Direct Provision centres in the south of Ireland who have so little autonomy over their own lives that accessing an abortion could be impossible. Gemma Hutton was our brilliant compere.
Finally the crowd was addressed by the formidable Bernadette McAliskey who took the stage to rapturous applause. She emphasised that this fight for abortion rights is part of a long history of women fighting for the right to control our own lives that has been going on for centuries. She made the simple but effective point that no one who disagrees with abortion will ever be forced to have one. She also stated that one of the biggest lines of division in the world right now is between those who believe in pursuing rights and equality for all, and those who do not. Her closing words were that she wanted to repeat back to the church something that the it says to us as part of its liturgy that she now wishes to reclaim....'This is my body!'
Rally For Choice would like to thank the march lead organiser Elaine Crory for all her hard work, all of the women's organisations who participated in this important protest and those individual women who we work and organise with on other issues who came to lend their support.