Call for abortion clinic inquiry

 

POLITICIANS HAVE reacted cautiously to an invitation by the North’s attorney general to investigate the legality of a Belfast clinic providing abortions, in the light of strongly worded comments he made on the issue four years ago.

Attorney general John Larkin last week offered to help the Northern Ireland Assembly’s justice committee investigate the newly opened Marie Stopes clinic – including questioning witnesses on its behalf – which offers terminations up to nine weeks’ gestation along with other reproductive-health services.

A row has blown up, however, since comments Mr Larkin made in a BBC Radio Ulster programme in 2008 have resurfaced. In the programme – broadcast before Mr Larkin became attorney general – he compared terminating the pregnancy of a disabled baby to “putting a bullet in the back of the head of the child two days after it’s born”.

His views were robustly challenged on the programme by fellow panellist and former Progressive Unionist Party leader Dawn Purvis – now the director of the Marie Stopes clinic. On the programme, she said it was such language that “criminalised women” and made the North a “backwater”.

This weekend Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said Mr Larkin should now “withdraw his offer”. He said: “It was such a stark declaration of his moral position that it has to cloud how we look on his offer of legal counsel.”

Anna Lo from the Alliance Party also called on Mr Larkin to “take a step back from discussions” while Sinn Féin’s Caitríona Ruane called his remarks “wholly inappropriate”.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said: “As a medic myself, I know all too well how fragile and vulnerable women in crisis pregnancies can feel and they deserve support and gentleness, rather than frightening rhetoric.

“Mr Larkin must address these remarks and assure all sides of the argument that he is a fit and proper person to undertake this role [of helping the justice committee] in a reasoned, impartial way.”

The DUP, however, said Mr Larkin had raised a “legitimate question”. A party spokesman said: “It’s not about the form of words, but the content of the question Mr Larkin raised is perfectly legitimate.”

As well as treating women north of the Border, the clinic – which opened last Friday amid protests – will be in a position to treat women from the Republic.