Private abortion clinic to open in Northern Ireland
By next week, Belfast will witness its first private clinic to offer abortions to women, stirring an angry reaction in the anti-abortion lobby along with predicted fury from religious and individual groups.
The reproductive health clinic, which is set to operate in the centre of Belfast from 18th October, will be run by Marie Stopes International. Marie Stopes International, a sexual health charity which operates in 42 countries and has more than 25 clinics in England, though none in Scotland or Wales, described the centre as “world class”. It is offering a range of family planning and sexual health services.
Services include, but are not limited to, short and long-term contraceptive options, emergency contraception, HIV testing, STI testing and treatment, ultrasound scanning, and medical (not surgical) abortions up to nine weeks.
The centre’s programme director is former Progressive Unionist Party leader, Dawn Purvis. Purvis said the Belfast clinic would be “providing early medical abortion within the law as it exists in Northern Ireland”. Ms Purvis also said the regulatory body, the RQIA, had been informed of and consulted on plans for the centre.
Dr Paula Franklin, medical director with Marie Stopes, said: “We know there will be opposition, but we also hope there will be some support from the people of Northern Ireland. We think this is a positive move and we believe there is a need.”
Although the clinic has been hailed by Darinka Aleksic, of the Abortion Rights group, the anti-abortion lobby has reacted with fury. “I am absolutely outraged. An organisation which is making profits from the death of unborn children is not welcome in Northern Ireland,” said Bernadette Smith of the anti-abortion group Precious Life.
Pro-life campaigners are holding a picket outside the Family Planning Association office in Belfast’s Great Victoria Street on a daily basis, and the location of the new centre is being withheld amid fears of pickets.
A 24-week limit for abortion applies in England, Wales and Scotland, but abortions are allowed only under certain conditions. Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland does not have the 1967 Abortion act, and according to its current legal framework, abortions are not illegal but are very strictly controlled.
The issue of abortion services came to the surface in 1992 when a case was heard in both the High Court and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruling led to multiple constitutional referendums, numerous expert groups and further cases in the European Court of Human Rights.