A counter-protest group formed in the wake of anti-abortion campaigners outside Daisy Hill Hospital are challenging the appropriateness of demonstrations.
Supporting Women Newry was formed back in March by local woman and health service users, Cara Malone, Fiona Collins and Angela Stanfield.
Their goal was to ensure a ‘safe passage to healthcare’ for all with volunteers, dressing as children’s movie characters during ‘counter-protests’ outside the Newry hospital last month.
Speaking to Armagh, newest addition Fiona explained that the group was formed to counter protests by “in your face” pro-life groups in Newry’s John Mitchel Place and latterly Daisy Hill.
“That area is used by a lot of folks,” she said. “That’s where the district nurses are, that’s where podiatry is, there’s lots of clinics there and all of a sudden these groups started to stand outside saying ‘babies are killed in the building’.
“This really isn’t about the abortion debate, this is about safe passage for women, men, and children in the healthcare facilities.”
Fiona commented: “The group was formed to sort of say go to wherever the policy makers are but please stop intimidating because the images are really not nice.
“Also to allege this about our wonderful healthcare workers, after the great job they have done over the past year to keep us all safe, for them to have to run this sort of barrage is just really saddening.”
All three members of the group have long term health conditions, with two requiring walking aids.
Fiona revealed that she has a genetic condition, arthritis and fused leg which led to her taking early retirement from teaching.
“We have had great support from staff, from service users and from visitors to the hospital, as well as the general populace of Newry,” she said.
“Of course, we have had personally a little bit of abuse from the groups but we are old enough to take it.”
Fiona continued: “I’ve been accused of being anti-democratic, being a misogynist and not wanting to support women but we’re not against protest.
“We’re not against, you know, people having different opinions, what we are against is people having inappropriate connections with our health service.”
Fiona recounted how at least one health car worker had to explain to her child why protesters were saying they killed babies in her place of employment.
“Imagine a healthcare worker, going into work and having to explain this to their children,” she said.
According to Fiona another major issue, is that the mental health unit at Daisy Hill Hospital is close to the main entrance meaning those attending cannot avoid seeing the images displayed.
She added: “We are buoyed by the support of our local representatives but realise that legislation and enforcement is needed from Stormont. Liz Kimmins, a Newry MLA, has been steadfast in her support for staff, patients and visitors.
“We would also like to mention Clare Bailey and the Green Party who have understood the need for exclusion zones around healthcare facilities in their Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy bill at Stormont.
“We now need the commitment of the other MLAs from Newry and Armagh and South Down to stand with us.”
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