N Ireland opens abortion clinic amid protests

Marie Stopes family planning centre will offer the abortion pill to women who are less than nine weeks pregnant.

    N Ireland opens abortion clinic amid protests
    Marie Stopes expects to provide relatively few abortions in Northern Ireland due to heavy legal restrictions [Reuters]

    The first abortion clinic in Northern Ireland, to be run by a British charity that already operates such clinics in more than 40 countries, has opened in Belfast.

    The clinic, which was opened on Thursday, has sparked protests by both the Catholic and Protestant sides of Northern Ireland.

    The Marie Stopes family planning centre will offer the abortion pill to women who are less than nine weeks pregnant, but only if doctors determine they are at risk of death or long-term health damage from their pregnancy.

    That is the law in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, where abortion is otherwise illegal.

    Ahead of the opening, more than 200 protesters gathered outside the central Belfast clinic waving placards reading "Keep Ireland abortion free".

    Protesters demanded that the clinic be shut down.

    "Women's health is not in danger. Women are not dying because they cannot get abortions,'' Bernadette Smyth, the Protestant leader of a Belfast anti-abortion group called Precious Life, said.

    Relatively few abortions

    Officials from Marie Stopes said they expect to provide relatively few abortions in Northern Ireland, given the heavy legal restrictions.

    But they said Belfast, and all of Ireland, needed a non-judgmental, non-threatening place where women in crisis pregnancies could go for guidance.

    They said their office was already receiving calls from women in the Republic of Ireland, where it's illegal to receive shipments of the abortion pill through the mail.

    "Mostly what we'll be doing is offering advice. Many of the people we see we won't be able to treat, because of the legal framework," said Tracey McNeill, vice-president of Marie Stopes.

    The Roman Catholic Church, the largest church in both parts of Ireland, this week launched a monthlong campaign to press the Irish government to strengthen its constitutional ban on abortion.

    It has denounced the Belfast clinic's opening but shied away from calling for protests.

    "We are in the middle of a struggle for the soul of Northern Ireland," Bishop Donal McKeown, the senior Catholic in Belfast, said.

    He said Marie Stopes directors were seeking "to promote the acceptability of abortion".

    SOURCE: Agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    We visualised 1.2 million votes at the UN since 1946. What do you think are the biggest issues facing the world today?

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.