Northern Ireland

NI Human Rights Festival: Anti-abortion talk sparks row

Women Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The Both Lives Matter event will take place in Belfast next month

A row has erupted over the inclusion of an anti-abortion debate at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Festival.

Liz Nelson of the Belfast Feminist Network resigned as chairwoman of the festival's organising group in protest at the decision.

She said the proposed lecture and Q&A in December "promoted the criminalisation of women".

The organisation Both Lives Matter helped set up the debate and said it was surprised and disappointed.

"Shutting down debate is contrary to some of the most basic human rights such as freedom of thought, conscience, expression and speech."

In Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, abortion is only allowed if a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health.

Different views

The Human Rights Consortium, which is behind the annual festival, said while they understood the inclusion of the event may be unwelcome, it was a space for different arguments and positions on human rights issues to be set out and considered.

The majority decision to include the Both Lives Matter event was taken by the board of the Consortium.

Its director Kevin Hanratty said: "The festival is a place for different human rights arguments to be made and considered, even on the most contested subject."

"We must be clear that inclusion in the festival programme of particular views, events, speakers or participants does not constitute an endorsement by the consortium or reflect the consortium's or individual board members' own views, opinions or positions,"

Ms Nelson, who will remain on as a board member, said: "I couldn't stand over it."

"There is a lot of good work being done by the consortium and we believe these groups offer the opportunity to bring reproductive rights to the forefront of human rights discourse in Northern Ireland."

Both Lives Matter said they would not be protesting pro-choice events at the festival.

"We have invited a leading QC to address some of the legal concerns around the competing rights raised by abortion. We believe discussion and persuasion provide a better path than 'no platforming' and silencing those we disagree with."

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