Northern Ireland’s Department of Health on Monday confirmed that ‘Safe Access Zones’ will be enforced at hospitals and centres offering abortion across the North from this Friday, 29 September.
A total of five Health and Social Care Trusts will bring the zones into force on Friday. In the Belfast Trust, the zones will come into force outside Bradbury Wellness and Treatment Centre, and the College Street centre, where telemedicine abortion clinics take place daily.
Craigavon Area Hospital and Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry In the Southern Trust will also roll out the zones, as will Lagan Valley Hospital, Ulster Hospital (both Southeastern Trust), Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry (Western Trust) and the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, which covers the Northern Trust area.
In October 2021, the Bill received backing from a majority of Stormont parties, including the SDLP, who courted votes from pro-lifers in the North for years. The Abortion Services Safe Access Zones Bill, a private members Bill, had been introduced by Clare Bailey of the Greens, a former abortion centre escort, who dramatically lost her seat in the last election.
In March of 2022, it was passed at Stormont, prompting elated cheering and dancing at Parliament Buildings, in scenes which divided many.
Speaking as news broke that the zones would come into force this week, the former MLA said that the zones would “lessen the impact” of a “deliberate campaign of harassment” by pro-life activists. Bailey spoke about her time as a Marie Stopes escort, on a podcast, recalling: “When I was seeing that up close and personal, and feeling completely powerless to do anything, apart from being a buffer to try and take the weight of that vicious vendetta, and try and lesson that burden and trauma for women, you had to just get on with it and suck it up.”
“When it was over, [that’s] really when you feel the impact of it […] that’s where fear is, and that’s absolutely disgusting, so I knew fine rightly when I got elected that was exactly where I needed to focus my energy on.”
Her choice of words and the caricature of pro-life people at abortion centres is interesting, and it’s one which is repeated tirelessly, and without questioning, by the media. Those who simply pray or try to provide information on the development of the baby in the womb are accused of having a “vicious vendetta” against women, and stirring up “fear”. It’s a narrative which has become prevalent.
Here’s the thing, though: I personally know people who have spent years peacefully praying at abortion referral centres, and there is no doubt it is predominantly those who have a strong Christian faith who choose to sacrifice their time to be there. They believe that prayer works, and so they dedicate time to pray for what they genuinely believe is a better outcome. For them, It is a matter of life or death.
I have often wondered if politicians like Bailey and other abortion advocates are being fully honest with themselves when they make these claims. It’s unreasonable to think that people who have very genuine and deeply-held beliefs do not have good intentions when they stand, peacefully and often silently, for hours on end, in cold and damp Irish weather, to be at these abortion centres and to face being demonised for doing so.
I’ve known mothers with families who have given up business hours, cutting back on income, even sacrificing family life, to stand for hours at these places, where – like my phrasing or not – the lives of unborn children are ended. They do so not because they hate women or harbour judgement of those facing such a situation, but because for them, they want to show that there is a life-affirming choice for women. Support is available. No woman should be made to feel abortion is her only choice.
Usually women are sent home with abortion pills, which are designed to starve the unborn child of nutrients and forcefully expel the baby. Abortion providers flippantly dismiss medical abortion, now the most common form of abortion, as being like a heavy period.
We know a procedure as destructive as removing a developing child from the womb is nothing like a heavy period, and to describe the procedure as such may make it easier, but it is not truthful. In fact, women have spoken out about the immensely upsetting experiences they have had with the abortion pill. One young woman, Natalie, from the UK, has spoken in heartbreaking clarity about seeing her baby pass away after taking the pills. She was unprepared for the immense pain and what she saw.
“I remember when it all started happening; it was around 5 a.m. It felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach. I made my way to the bathroom, and that’s when I passed my baby. I looked down and saw him; it wasn’t like a heavy period, it was a baby. I couldn’t look anymore; it was a child, not just a bit of blood. I must have flushed the toilet without thinking.
I didn’t know what to do, so I just fell to my knees and then lay in my bed, bleeding through the mattress. I stayed there for about 3 days on my own, trying my hardest not to think about what had happened,” she says in her devastatingly honest testimony, shared at the UK March for Life.
This sort of honest language around the issue of abortion is rare. I would argue the many dishonest depictions we see so commonly in the culture when it comes to abortion also make it a great deal harder for those negatively impacted by the procedure to speak out, because their experience, and their loss, is diminished on such a huge scale.
But let’s face it, the whole process of abortion is one which is increasingly shrouded in secrecy and dishonesty and contradiction, and I can’t help but feel an exclusion zones law will only help to further deepen the societal secrecy around abortion. It’s a secrecy and a dishonesty which has been part of the cultural fabric in England for years, and has come to be so accepted in Ireland that we’ve had over 30,000 abortions performed in this country since Repeal.
The mental health, emotional damage, and grief from such an experience, and such a profound loss many feel in its aftermath, is also something of an unexplored phenomenon in our culture.
People don’t want to talk about it, for fear of being lumped together with pro-lifers, and inevitable accusations of judging women. In my experience, the truth is that many are hurting deeply because of abortion, and that this anger is a powerful force which is often used to fuel campaigns to bring in more abortion, eradicate time limits, and enforce zones like this.
If you feel that, by trying to shed some light on the unseen life of a baby about to be snuffed out, or to offer to walk alongside a woman in the throes of despair, is seen as harbouring a vendetta or pushing fear, then I think you greatly misunderstand the intentions of pro-life people.
The truth is that people praying silently, (and facing backlash for doing so from the media or family and friends), gain nothing for themselves. They are accused of intimidation and driving fear, but women are often already in a state of fear and turmoil when seeking out abortion. It is not someone standing with rosary beads in hand who is inflicting fear, but the weight and difficulty of the abortion itself.
Abortions, more and more, are now done in secret, through the soaring prevalence of at-home abortions. The appeal of such a route lies in the dubious comfort of being hidden away – of being able to have an abortion in your own home without anyone knowing.
Surely, there is a glaring contradiction to be found in our society saying it has erased shame around the unplanned pregnancies of old, which saw babies born in mother and baby homes, but yet welcomes abortions en masse. While these institutions are gone, we have not erased shame. We insist firmly that we have, but we have simply replaced one approach with another on a much bigger scale, in the form of online consultations and abortion pills.
A study from Norway, published last year, reported how women felt shame and guilt following abortion, and referenced secrecy and emotional distancing. For some women, “the absence of the aborted child was present in their thoughts years after the abortion alongside feelings of guilt, shame, and grief, the research said. Another 2020 study from the US, detailed how participants attributed their feelings of shame to their rejection of motherhood.
We can point fingers at pro-life groups and people praying all we like, but the experience in and of itself is something which is riddled with negativity for so many, and it’s not the pro-lifer who is making you feel bad.
We are so quick to say emotional damage around abortion is rooted in those who voice opposition to the practise, or those who pray and witness to life at abortion centres. We are of course much more reluctant to acknowledge it is the ending of the human life itself which inflicts the trauma.
Online forums like Mumset are full of stories from hundreds of women who have shared regret at going through abortions. You will read about women who will go it alone, not telling anyone, or those who have confided in a partner, who has exerted pressure on them because they did not want the child.
One user on the Mumsnet forum recently wrote about “wishing” someone could have “talked her out” of having an abortion, which she had because of financial reasons and “massive fear” – having only sought the opinion of her partner.
She detailed: “The pills I got them yesterday. took the first one and the last lot today and passed my baby. I [feel] absolutely feel gutted […] I’m thinking if I’d have told people and had someone to talk to, then maybe someone could [have] talked me out of it and give me some positives about it. That is a huge regret not telling anyone, I wish I could turn back time and I will live with this for the rest of my life.”
Another user, commenting on the thread – one of hundreds posted in the last number of months — assures her she is not alone, and that she herself had a recent abortion.
Four weeks on, she says the impact of the abortion is no easier. She writes:
“But if you’ve read all the stories like I have on here, of hundreds of women who have done the exact same thing. Fear and panic based driven decision… who regret deeply, and suffered major mental health issues.. you are most definitely not alone. Not the first and will not be the last by any shot.. nobody tells us so many negatives about it, it’s dressed up in fact. Made out to be so easy and normal, when in fact there is a dark side to it all.”
She said “nobody warned me about the depression and the [effect] afterwards” adding that she feels “regret” and wanting to “take it back.”
“Listening and reading many stories just like ours, has proven and comforted me in knowing how many of us go through this. But did anyone tell us that? No,” she adds in the anonymous thread.
In the case of these two women, who have had to turn to the internet for support, the presence of a listening ear and some honesty about the procedure outside of an abortion referral centre would have been a lifeline, had they interacted or not. There are mothers in the UK, from groups like Be Here for Me, who have said that one conversation or leaflet, in the eleventh hour, made all the difference. Groups like Precious Life have saved lives in Northern Ireland because of their presence outside abortion centres.
There are countless more conversations like that to be found, in the hidden corners of the internet, which give a raw and in-real-time insight into a British abortion culture, now imported to Ireland, which very much tells women they are on their own. Which pits them against their own children and lies to them about their worth as mothers and the wondrous miracle of human life. It is surely a scandal that such a merciless and dehumanising industry and culture can continue to function, unrestrained, while every last dissenting voice must be quenched and outlawed.
By enforcing censorship zones, the government is not all about women. It is about control, and about protecting itself. It is merely erasing the opportunity for any form of objection to be voiced to the lucrative, taxpayer funded, government-enforced abortion machine, driving women into the hands of abortion providers. Those providers, as we have seen in the UK, care about the bottom line. They don’t care about human life, whether it’s the woman or the baby she is carrying.
Pro-lifers, on the other hand, for all you may say about them, and in spite of how the media chooses to portray them, are at these places not for their own gain. They could be comfortably at home, but they are not because they genuinely care about mothers and babies, and truly believe that prayer can bring about a better outcome.
It’s worth noting, too, that Northern Ireland had no say regarding its abortion law. It was foisted on the province by the Westminster government back in 2019, despite 79 per cent of people, in that same government’s consultation, saying they did not want to see the law changed.
In June, Westminster decided abortion access will now be something taught in schools across the North, and it is not yet clear that parents will be able to opt their children out. It’s funny, then, that we continue to hear so much about choice, when we can all see things are very much going in one direction.
Now, all remaining voices of dissent and peaceful protest must be silenced, so that no further questions can be asked about an abortion regime that never received backing from the people. It sets a worrying precedent, and will only serve to stifle an honest conversation around abortion which is long overdue.