“I had holy water splashed on me, I was verbally abused, I had one young woman who was so distressed she ran into four lanes of oncoming traffic to escape the protestors,” she said.
Michael Robinson, executive director of the British pro-life group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said such harassment has been “extraordinarily rare.”
“The intimidation of women outside abortion facilities has been proven time and time again to be a lie, while the abuse that pro-lifers have suffered has not been subject to a review at all,” he said, citing a June assault on a pro-life advocate outside a Belfast abortion clinic.
Proposals for buffer zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales were rejected by the then-British Home Secretary in September 2018, after finding that most abortion protests are peaceful and passive.
The British parliament legalized abortion in Northern Ireland in March 2020, taking advantage of a power sharing dispute between the leading political parties of the self-governing region. Previously, abortion was legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother’s life was imperiled or if there was a risk of long-term or permanent, serious damage to a woman’s mental or physical health.
The new regulations allow elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy; abortions up to 24 weeks in cases of risk to the mother's physical or mental health; and abortion without time limit in cases of severe fetal impairment or fatal fetal abnormality.
The region’s Catholic bishops have called the act “an unjust law,” one “which was imposed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”
The bishops added that we are “morally obliged, wherever possible, to do all we can to save the lives of unborn children, which could be lost through abortion, and to protect mothers from the pressures they might experience at the time of an unplanned pregnancy.”
Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, issued a formal direction on July 22 requiring the Northern Ireland Executive and Department of Health to make abortion and post-abortion care available in the region by March 31, 2022. A High Court judge in Belfast recently ruled that Lewis had failed to comply with his duties as Secretary of State by not "expeditiously" making abortion available to women in Northern Ireland.
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.