Mixed response to abortion clinic
Pro-choice lobbyists have welcomed the planned opening of Northern Ireland’s first abortion clinic, while anti-abortion groups have described it as an "outrage".
The Marie Stopes centre in Belfast, headed by former Progressive Unionist MLA Dawn Purvis, will begin carrying out terminations from next Thursday.
Women over 16, including patients from the Republic, will be able to make appointments at the 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.
Bernadette Smith, from the Precious Life group, said she was absolutely outraged. "An organisation which is making profits from the death of unborn children is not welcome in Northern Ireland. There will be an outcry from the people, from government and from the churches.”
Ms Smith claimed there is “no demand” for a private abortion clinic in Northern Ireland.
“The figures for women seeking an abortion have been coming down. The reduction in the number of women travelling to England has fallen by 36 per cent over the last 15 years since the foundation of Precious Life,” she said.
Leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party Jim Allister said abortion was only legal in Northern Ireland where there is a threat to the life of the mother, and it would be imperative for the police to monitor the Stopes facility for any infringement of the law “including aiding and abetting abortion”.
Pro-choice groups, Rally for Choice, Choice Ireland and UCD Pro-Choice Society last night welcomed the opening of the clinic.
In a joint statement, the groups said the clinic will give women in Ireland a clear route for accessing legal abortions for the first time.
"The opening of a Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast will provide women all across Ireland with much easier access to legal abortion, rather than trying to raise the funds to travel to England or further afield. It will be a welcome move for many women in the Republic. It will also provide other much needed services including contraception and STI screening," the statement said.
"We call for the Irish Government to take note of this new positive step and finally legislate for the right of a woman to obtain an abortion when her life is in danger. It is unacceptable that 20 years after women were granted the constitutional right to abortion (when their lives are in danger) that women in Ireland must take a case to the Irish or European courts in order to exercise their rights."
The groups described the move as a step in the right direction in the campaign for free, safe and legal abortion.
The Presbyterian Church's director of social service Lindsay Conway said the new clinic must work within the law.
“The Presbyterian Church would strongly oppose any attempt to undermine or liberalise the abortion legislation as it currently stands in Northern Ireland that termination of human life at any stage within the womb should not be considered except under the most extreme circumstances,” she said.