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K.V. Turley

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Newly founded Both Lives Matter org fights to keep N. Ireland’s pro-life laws

K.V. Turley
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Northern Irish pro-life leader Dawn McAvoy

August 6, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – In 2017, Dawn McAvoy, a Northern Ireland Christian, co-founded Both Lives Matter. A pro-life advocacy group, its aims are:

  • To re-frame the abortion debate in Northern Ireland and beyond
  • To advocate for better care in pregnancy crisis
  • To create a life-affirming culture that values each woman and her unborn child
  • To safeguard the current law which protects both women and unborn children

Wishing to remind the Northern Ireland public of the benefits of its strict abortion laws, in January 2017 Both Lives Matter conducted a billboard campaign with the headline: "100,000 people are alive today because of our laws on abortion. Why change that?"

In response to the placement of the billboards, 14 complaints were lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority. It found that: "On balance…the evidence indicated that there was a reasonable probability that around 100,000 people were alive in Northern Ireland today who would have otherwise been aborted had it been legal to do so."

The '100,000' billboard campaign went on to win the Northern Ireland Public Affairs Campaign of the Year for 2017.

Recently, Dawn McAvoy was part of a delegation of pro-life women from every section of Northern Ireland society who came to the Westminster Parliament to lobby against any change in the current laws pertaining to abortion in Northern Ireland. Currently those laws are under attack from an on-going campaign by British and Irish politicians from outside the jurisdiction.

LifeSiteNews interviewed McAvoy about Both Lives Matter and the campaign to protect Northern Ireland’s pro-life laws.

 

LifeSite: Why did you found Both Lives Matter?

Dawn McAvoy: Both Lives Matter was formed because both lives matter in every pregnancy crisis and this is not a story that was being told.  In 2015 Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice, launched a consultation looking at whether NI abortion law should be changed, specifically considering the very rare and tragic cases of a diagnosis of a fetal life limited condition and pregnancy through sexual crime.

In my role as a Researcher for Evangelical Alliance NI, I was meeting with politicians and encouraging them to defend our law, which recognizes, protects and balances the two lives that are in existence in every pregnancy, the woman and her preborn child. NI law already provides a defense of abortion when a mother’s life and health is at risk, as defined in law. Rather than introduce into law, a category of human being who was unworthy of that protection based on a perceived “fault”, instead we were asking for improved perinatal palliative services, better maternal antenatal care provision, and an expansion to existing pregnancy crises service provision.

In the public square it was predominantly male voices who were speaking out in defense of preborn life and they were regularly being criticized and portrayed as “old white men” who were anti-women. I decided to meet specifically with female legislators and ask them to speak up, as women, and for the many women who were and are supportive of existing legal protections. I realized that many of them were not in favor of more abortion, but, as with many members of the public, they were nervous about speaking out, because they would be labeled as anti-women and religious fundamentalists.

The toxicity of public debate is stifling genuine conversations about how best to respond to women facing pregnancy crisis. The language being used is polarizing, and the commonly used labels of “pro-choice”, and “pro-life”, contributed nothing beyond a way of caricaturing opposing voices.

We needed a way to expand the conversation and include a significant number of the public who just didn't want to get involved in the nastiness. The lack of engagement was only contributing to the perpetuation of misinformation and myth about the issues. Something needed to change.

As well as female legislators, I began to meet with female policy makers, community and church leaders. I wanted to create a space for conversation that was overtly pro-women but not focused on a religious defense of life and, being Northern Ireland, crossed the all too common religious and political divides.

Those meetings were extremely positive and revealed a real desire from women to show compassion to other women in crisis. Most people had a personal lived experience that they could refer to, either their own story, or a friend or family member. Abortion was commonly being presented as the compassionate “choice” and there was support for getting a different message out to the public and into the media. As women met other women who felt similarly, courage grew and a willingness to get involved was evident.

So in January 2017 the Both Lives Matter campaign was launched.

What is its aim?

We are speaking up in defense of current law, speaking for better services for women facing pregnancy crisis and standing with them to demand a culture that affirms and enables life.

Fifty years ago abortion law in the rest of the United Kingdom was changed as the 1967 Abortion Act was introduced. Fifty years later there have been nearly 9 million abortions in Great Britain, 98% of abortions there are carried out in healthy women and on healthy babies. In contrast, because we in Northern Ireland did not enact that law, 100 thousand people are alive today.  

However as much as we celebrate that fact, we recognize that law on its own does not suffice. Saying no to abortion isn't enough.  Women facing pregnancy crises need to be enabled and empowered to give life. This is why it is vital for us as a campaign that one of our key partners is LIFE (Northern Ireland) – a pregnancy care charity with over 30 years of experience in helping women in pregnancy crisis.

So Both Lives Matter was formed to reframe and re-humanize the conversation around pregnancy crises and abortion. We are focused on and based in Northern Ireland. There is a lot of ignorance and misinformation within society about our law, about preborn life, about what abortion does. Facts are key, so looking at biology, medicine, law and policy, we strive to bring truth to a sensitive debate in a reasoned and reasonable manner.

Does Northern Ireland need another pro-life group?

We describe ourselves as pro-woman and pro-life. We are not interested in replicating what is already happening – some of which is brilliant.

The fact that so many members of the public were not willing to engage with such an important issue was evidence that something needed to change. The initial idea had been simply to provide a space for mutual engagement but, yes, we quickly realized that our distinct voice was emerging and was very welcome. We’ve had lots of people contact us to say that the language and tone of our campaign was exactly what they were waiting for.

Both Lives Matter is a collaborative campaign, we speak collectively but the groups and individuals who support us and partner with us also speak from their own unique position. The strength of that approach was seen just recently when we took eight women from NI to Westminster, and that cross community delegation showed that this issue is a bridge that unites us all, crossing every political and religious divide.

So you draw support from across the sectarian divide?

Yes, very much so. One of the most encouraging things about the campaign has been the people who have drawn alongside us, from every sector of society. Personally speaking, I am working with and have built strong friendships with women and men who I would probably never otherwise have met, because of the sectarian and divided nature of our communities.

How much political support do you have?

We know that we have support from within most political parties.

Our politicians are representative of our community and culture. Law shapes culture and because abortion is restricted here it is not commonplace. There are 100 thousand people alive today directly because abortion is our default solution. It has impacted our politicians as much as wider society. We all know someone who is alive today because of our law. We may be that person. That person may be our local politician.

What has been the media reaction?

It has been varied. Initially and still, there was uncertainty as to who we were and what our message was. It seemed that some journalists didn't know what box to put us in: “pro-choice” or “anti-choice”, or the anti-woman, “religious nut” caricature. This meant that our cross community, female led, “pro-both” and secular voice was confusing.

Our research, independently and robustly tested by the Advertising Standards Authority, estimates that over 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland because we didn’t implement the 1967 Abortion Act. This fact is shaping the public conversation.

We have worked hard to build a reputation of having a credible, reasoned and compassionate voice. The issue is what's important; facts matter because lives matter. So under the banner of Both Lives Matter we are known for providing the right spokesperson for the particular circumstance, whether the situation requires a legal, medical, or policy expert, a service provider or a commentator we will provide the best person, who may also represent another organization.

Has the Republic’s Abortion Referendum not made the liberalization of abortion in Northern Ireland inevitable?

There is nothing inevitable about liberalizing abortion. That said there is no doubt that the result in the South is concerning and will have an effect on Northern Ireland. There is a threat of liberalization through unconstitutional action from Westminster, a change by the legislative assembly or via the courts. They key thing is that we don't have to vote for abortion, we don’t have to follow the path that others have taken. We can choose to protect and empower both women and their children.

Many Westminster MPs want to change Northern Ireland’s current abortion laws – what is your reaction to that?

Abortion is a devolved issue to the Northern Ireland Assembly. However we have seen moves by some MPs at Westminster to attempt to override and take advantage of this. We are dismayed that some democratically elected politicians from outside of our jurisdiction would seek to impose laws on Northern Ireland. If they do so, it is a subversion of democracy.

In seeking to impose abortion on NI over the heads of the people who live there, these politicians display contempt for and ignorance of the laws, culture and people of NI. They also disrespect their political peers who are at Westminster representing the will of the people in NI, who elected them on a pro-life mandate.

We have been shocked at the ignorance of some British MPs who seem to be unaware of what NI abortion law actually is, the outworking of that law in the lives saved, and the life affirming policies, care and services which underpin it. They also seem oblivious, even unconcerned as to the implications of the change they propose, which could bring in abortion on request up to viability or even beyond.

We are asking them to not just listen to the pro-abortion campaigners who portray NI as backward, misogynistic and discriminatory. We appeal to them to listen to other voices from NI, voices proud of our law, while not being blind to the need for even better services for women and family pre and post birth. We are seeking policy change but not law change for NI.

But we also respectfully encourage them to look to their own constituents and listen to their wishes. Polling done in May 2017, showed that a majority of men and women in GB, expressed a desire that Westminster look again at GB abortion law and lower the time limit for abortion there, from 24 weeks, in line with medical advances. In fact only 1% of the British public supported the rallying cry of the abortion lobby.

So what is the Both Lives Matter strategy going forward?

We will continue to pursue opportunities to share our message that Both Lives Matter, both here in NI and elsewhere, in recognition of the significant pressure we face from outside of our jurisdiction.

We will continue to stand for law, services and culture that affirm and enable life. We know that women in NI deserve better than the cheapened version of feminism being offered to them. We are standing as women saying that our route to freedom, equality and opportunity is not found in the ability to terminate our unborn child's life.

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