Silent demonstration at Stormont over planned liberalisation of abortion laws
By Rebecca Black, PA
Thousands of people have staged a silent demonstration at Stormont over the planned liberalisation of abortion laws in Northern Ireland.
Protesters gathered at the front gates of the estate before walking up Prince of Wales Avenue to Parliament Buildings.
They stood there in silence, with heads bowed and holding lights, for six minutes, to represent the six counties in Northern Ireland.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and UUP leader Robin Swann were among the crowd.
An academic counting those who took part in the walk to Parliament Buildings estimated numbers at 4,000, while later, event organisers said there were in excess of 20,000 people at the demonstration.
In July, MPs passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act, which contained a provision placing a duty on the Government to regulate to provide for access to abortion in Northern Ireland.
It comes into effect if the Stormont executive is not restored by October 21, with regulations required to be in place by the end of March 2020.
The NI Voiceless initiative was set up by citizens opposed to the move, and says the people of Northern Ireland were not consulted.
It claims there is no support for the planned liberalisation of the region's abortion laws.
One of the organisers, Sarah Crutchley, described the movement as a "group of ordinary concerned citizens who came together and decided it was time to take a stand against the decision made by Westminster".
"We organised this event which was open to people of all religions, all political persuasions and all cultural backgrounds so we could come together and unite on this issue, and stand in silent protest," she added.
"We want our silence to say two things: that first, we, as the people of Northern Ireland, were not asked about this change in legislation, and that it actually goes against public opinion here, and that every sitting MP from Northern Ireland voted against this change, and that the unborn children, they have no voice, they cannot speak so they were not considered in this legislation."
Belfast city centre is set to host both pro-choice and anti-abortion demonstrations on Saturday.
The March For Their Lives event will take place at Custom House Square at 2pm, while the Rally For Choice will take place at Writer's Square at 1.30pm.