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Abortion Rights Groups See Northern Ireland’s Film Industry as Boycott Target

DUBLIN — Abortion rights activists scored a major victory this week when several major media companies said they would rethink filming in the state of Georgia if a newly passed restrictive abortion law there goes into effect.

Now, abortion rights campaigners in Northern Ireland, a thriving film production hub in its own right, are hoping to draw the same type of response in their region, an area with an even more restrictive abortion law than the one in Georgia.

Kellie O’Dowd, co-chair of the Northern Ireland reproductive rights group Alliance for Choice, said many prominent people working in the screen industry in Britain were criticizing the situation in America without acknowledging what she called “draconian” laws in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

“People from Britain who work in film were saying they were concerned about what is happening in Alabama and Georgia,” she said. “But they don’t seem to know what is happening in Northern Ireland.”

Ms. O’Dowd said her group was eager to use the widespread public outcry from abortion rights supporters over the new American restrictions to highlight the situation in Northern Ireland and to call for a boycott to press for change.

“Why does it take something to happen in Alabama,” she said, referencing a restrictive law recently passed in that state, “before people notice what is happening in Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom?”

While abortion has long been legal in England, Scotland and Wales, the British government has ceded responsibility for the issue in Northern Ireland to the devolved administration in Belfast, where legalized abortion has been resisted by the largest party, the Protestant and conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

Women in Northern Ireland are permitted to have abortions only in cases where doctors judge that their life or long term health are threatened. For years, most women in Northern Ireland seeking abortions have traveled across the Irish Sea to Britain.

More recently, women in Northern Ireland have also begun to cross the border to the Republic of Ireland, which legalized abortion following a referendum last year. The international attention on the referendum in the republic gave a lift to similar campaigns to change legislation in the north, as did a United Nations report that deemed Northern Ireland’s policy a violation of women’s rights.

But a year on, nothing has changed in Northern Ireland, and some activists now see a boycott of the film industry as a means to pressure the government.

The film and television industries have become increasingly important in recent years to Northern Ireland, which has sought to attract international productions with competitive prices, skilled actors and crews, tax breaks and the region’s beautiful scenery.

It was most notably the setting for many of the Westeros sequences in the HBO series Game of Thrones, which broadcast its final episode earlier this month. The main sound stage for the production was a building in the former Belfast shipyard where the Titanic was built.

Northern Ireland Screen, a state-sponsored body responsible for promoting the industry, says that film and television spending has injected 270 million pounds, or $341 million, into the region’s economy since 2014.

Richard Williams, the chief executive of Northern Ireland Screen, said the organization supported the rights of actors and industry players to use their influence to “amplify debate on important social issues,” but did not support a boycott.

Mr. Williams added: “Instead, we support the approach of vocal actors and others who assert their intention to keep working in Northern Ireland and keep using their profile and status to celebrate that which they enjoy here and to call out that which they believe must change.”

Some actors seemed to agree with that approach.

Nicola Coughlan, an Irish actress on the series Derry Girls, a comedy based in Northern Ireland, has been a vocal supporter of abortion rights, but said she would not boycott filming in Northern Ireland.

“I absolutely love working there and feel like my time is better spent supporting the women there by speaking out in interviews,” she wrote in a tweet.

Ms. O’Dowd said that Alliance for Choice had not yet received any messages of support for a Northern Ireland boycott from within the industry, but they were aware that “one of the actors in Game of Thrones was saying she was glad they weren’t filming here any more.”

The reference was to Sophie Turner, the actress who played Sansa Stark for nearly a decade, much of it spent on site in Northern Ireland. She told Sky News that she recently pledged to boycott filming in Georgia and when asked about similarly restrictive laws in Northern Ireland, she added, “Luckily, we are moving on.”

This week, the head of content for the streaming giant Netflix and Disney’s chief executive each indicated that they would be rethinking using Georgia as a filming location.

Other major media companies soon issued similar statements: Viacom, CBS, NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia, the parent company of HBO.

Disney, Netflix and WarnerMedia did not respond to requests for comment on the calls for a similar boycott in Northern Ireland.

Source: NYT

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