Belfast clinic to offer abortion in 32 counties
THE FIRST clinic to offer abortions on the island of Ireland is to open in Belfast next Thursday.
Women over 16, including patients from the Republic, will be able to make appointments at the Marie Stopes Northern Ireland sexual and reproductive health centre on Great Victoria Street. As well as medical abortion up to nine weeks’ gestation, it will offer contraceptive options, HIV testing, sexually transmitted infections treatment and ultrasound scanning.
Marie Stopes International, a not-for-profit organisation, is one of the UK’s leading providers of sexual and reproductive healthcare services. Established more than 30 years ago, it works in 42 countries.
In providing early medical abortions, the centre will operate under existing laws in Northern Ireland which are ambiguous.
Women in the North can seek abortions through the National Health Service if their cases meet certain eligibility conditions, but in practice they have found it very difficult to obtain abortions in Northern Ireland.
In the new Belfast centre, two doctors will assess whether a woman is eligible for a termination following a consultation with her and a scan to confirm the existence of the pregnancy, the length of gestation and any possible complications.
The cost for an early medical abortion, which is a non-surgical procedure, will be £350, excluding the consultation fee.
The Belfast centre’s programme director, Dawn Purvis, former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, said: “We offer a safe place for women and men to find support, be provided with help and counselling, to feel that they are being listened to and not judged. It is a matter of choice, every step of the way.
“A woman may decide that she does not want to choose a termination. If she does, then offering early medical abortion cuts out the stress of having to travel outside Northern Ireland to access those services.”
Last year, 1,007 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England or Wales for an abortion, as did 4,149 women from the Republic.
The main legislative restriction on abortion in the North is the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861.
Since 1967, the Abortion Act has governed abortion in England, Scotland and Wales but Northern Ireland was excluded and the 1861 Act applies.
The 1945 Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Act also applies to abortion in Northern Ireland.
It allows the abortion of a child “capable of being born alive” only where the mother’s life would be otherwise at risk.
Attempts to challenge the existing legal restrictions have met strong opposition from politicians and anti-abortion campaigners in the North.
Ms Purvis said that in offering abortions, the centre would be operating within the current legal framework when the life of the pregnant woman was at immediate risk or if there was a long-term, serious or permanent risk to her physical or mental wellbeing.