Pro-life campaigners have threatened to shut down Ireland’s first abortion clinic which is due to open next week.
The Marie Stopes Clinic is to open on Great Victoria St, Belfast, next Thursday. It will provide abortions, using pills, to pregnant women up to nine weeks’ gestation.
Marie Stopes confirmed women north and south of the border had already contacted them yesterday seeking abortions in Belfast.
Last year, 1,007 women from the North travelled to England or Wales for an abortion while 4,149 travelled from the Republic.
Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro Life Campaign and Senator Ronan Mullen have said they are confident that assembly members in the North will move to shut the clinic down.
Meanwhile, Choice Ireland has called on the 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,” said a spokesman.
The North’s Abortion Rights group last night described the clinic’s opening as “groundbreaking”.
“Women in Northern Ireland are UK taxpayers yet they are treated like second class citizens when it comes to abortion. Having to travel to the mainland or further abroad to access safe, legal abortion exacts a huge financial and emotional cost,” said Darinka Aleksic.
“Over 50,000 women have had to make this journey over the past 40 years and it is an injustice that must not be allowed to continue.”
The Irish Family Planning Agency (IFPA) says it will not immediately be giving women from the Republic contact details for the clinic.
A spokeswoman for the IFPA said it did not have full information on the legal basis and medical protocols upon which the service will operate. “Until it has had an opportunity to examine this information, IFPA will not make any decision about offering the contact details of this service to women seeking information on abortion from the Republic,” said a spokeswoman.
The Marie Stopes clinic’s medical director, Dr Paula Franklin said they decided to set up the clinic as “they knew there was a demand” and abortions were already taking place in the North.
They sought legal and healthcare advice and are “now fully aware of the grounds upon which can provide the service to women in Ireland”.
Marie Stopes also said it would ensure security precautions so that women could safely enter and exit the building.
A former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), Dawn Purvis, will be the centre’s programme director.
Abortion is legal in the North when the woman’s life is in immediate danger or at risk of long-term damage to her physical or mental health.
However, in reality it has been near impossible to obtain a termination in the province. Recent figures from the British department of health list just 123 terminations carried out in the North between 2008 and 2011.
Choice Ireland said the opening would “provide much easier access to legal abortion, rather than trying to raise the funds to travel to England or further afield”, but Bernadette Smith from the North’s Precious Life group said she was “outraged” by the opening.
Dr Cullen of the Pro Life Campaign accused Marie Stopes of “imposing an abortion regime on Northern Ireland”.
Last night Sinn Féin issued a statement saying it does not believe the 1967 British Abortion Act should be extended to the North.
“Sinn Féin is not in favour of abortion. Sinn Féin believes that where a woman’s life or mental health is at risk or in grave danger that the final decision rests with the woman.
“The Marie Stopes clinic is a private institution. It has to operate under the guidelines and the legal framework set out by the department of health in the North,” it read.
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