"Everyone will own their own bodies" Northern Ireland pro-choice and equal marriage campaigners rejoice 4 months ago

"Everyone will own their own bodies" Northern Ireland pro-choice and equal marriage campaigners rejoice

A riot of of pink, orange, green and red smoke filled the air in the Guildhall square in Derry tonight as several hundred people gathered to celebrate an historic day.

The chill winter air did little to dampen the spirits, and people stamped the ground to keep warm while sharing hugs and tissues as tears were shed.

At 12 midnight, abortion will be decriminalised in Northern Ireland and equal marriage for gay and lesbian people will be legal from January 2020. Declan Meehan, spokesperson for Love Equality said it was a "wonderful and historic day for Northern Ireland."

"It underlines the importance of lobbying and grassroots activism in creating change." Declan added.

"This victory doesn't belong to politicians, but to the grassroots activists who campaigned long and hard to get political support for these causes."

Declan said the changes came about because of the cross-issue support from activists.

"With marriage equality and abortion rights, you'd be seeing the same faces. It's been largely the same people fighting for these issues. Not just cross issues but also across the border. We've saw huge solidarity across the border for repeal, with Northern Irish activists helping us get it over the line, and that support has been reciprocated with cross-border support coming from Donegal to Derry."

Veteran Alliance for Choice campaigner Goretti Horgan delivered a rousing and emotional speech, declaring that, "From midnight, everyone who lives here, will own their own bodies. I wasn't sure if I would live to see that day."

Goretti spoke of a woman in a very impoverished housing estate who was in need of an abortion and the whole community did a whip around to pay for it. Her story illustrated the community support for abortion access, support which has been backed up by recent polls.

“We know from a number of opinion polls, and academic research such as the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see criminal sanctions removed from abortion.”

"This has not been in anyway imposed, there are people here today who have been fighting for 30, 40 even 50 years for these rights."

Goretti paid homage to the courageous woman of Derry who played such a significant role in securing abortion rights for the people of Northern Ireland. As well as Derry being the birthplace of Alliance for Choice, hundreds of people, mostly from Derry signed an open letter stating that they had broken the law and asking to be arrested.

"After that letter was submitted, the prosecutions decreased." Goretti said.

After a Belfast mother was arrested for buying abortion pills for her teenage daughter, three Derry women handed themselves in to be arrested, saying they too had helped people secure abortion pills.

One of three banners hanging from the walls behind Goretti read, "We honour the activists that precede us, and thank them for their bravery, their persistence, and their many acts of care and solidarity."

One of the acts of solidarity from women in Northern Ireland was before today, an underground feminist secret.

Goretti spoke of the women in the North who had never appeared as public faces for abortion access but who bravely kept up a steady supply of abortion pills to people in need on both sides of the border. Now that abortion has been decriminalised, these underground heros can be acknowledged publicly.

Alliance For Choice Members Becca Barnes and Dr Maeve O'Brien

Dr Maeve O'Brien from Alliance for Choice was jubilant.

"Across the two campaigns we've not had many victories to celebrate. For the activists and communities involved this has been a long, hard road to walk."

Maeve paid tribute to the activists who worked for abortion rights but did not live to see this outcome.

Civil rights campaigner and People Before Profit Councillor Eamonn McCann said the day was a credit to the power of young women.

"Sometimes the pace of change moves very slowly and then suddenly you have a day like today, a huge leap of human rights happening. It's all down to the power of young women, shaking things up."

One young woman who has been shaking things up is Derry Alliance for Choice Artist in Residence Shannon Patterson.

Shannon has produced a steady supply of her colourful illustrations to represent the various aspects of the campaign. Having recently moved from Derry to Cork, Shannon travelled back to join in the celebrations. As she hugged her fellow campaigners she declared herself, "Ecstatic, exhausted!"

It was a big mood.