Derry Girls duo take campaign for NI abortion reform to Westminster

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Stars of hit TV show Derry Girls are heading to Westminster to demand changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.

Nicola Coughlan, who plays Clare Devlin in the popular Channel 4 series, and Siobhan McSweeney, who plays Sister Michael, will join 26 other women in a symbolic protest next week.

Amnesty International, which is organising the event, says the 28 women marching over Westminster Bridge carrying suitcases will symbolise the number of women who travel outside Northern Ireland each week for an abortion.

Each suitcase will contain names of 62,000 people who are calling for changes, signatures that the participants will bring to the Northern Ireland Office at Whitehall.

Derry Girls premiere – Londonderry
Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan (Niall Carson/PA)

A termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

The 1967 Abortion Act which governs the rest of the UK was not extended to Northern Ireland.

Ahead of next Tuesday’s demonstration, Coughlan referenced the recent liberalisation of the abortion laws in the Irish Republic, following last year’s historic referendum to repeal the constitutional ban on terminations, the Eighth Amendment.

“It was such a proud moment when we Repealed the Eighth in Ireland but it’s now time our sisters in Northern Ireland get the change so desperately overdue,” she said.

“Let’s do this for women everywhere.

“Women who have abortions are not criminals, it’s time the law stopped treating them as such.”

McSweeney said the region had been “neglected for too long”.

Ireland abortion laws
Posters supporting both sides of the abortion debate in the Republic of Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

“I’ll be here fighting alongside Amnesty for Northern Ireland until the degrading law there is changed.

“It has to happen soon.”

Amnesty said MPs including Diana Johnson, Heidi Allen, Karin Smyth and Christine Jardine are also due to take part in the event, as are a number of women who have been impacted by Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.

Abortion is a highly emotive issue in Northern Ireland, with vocal advocates of both sides of the debate.

Anti-abortion activists are opposed to Westminster intervening to change the laws during the political crisis.

They insist only locally elected politicians should make decisions on the matter.

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