The operators of Northern Ireland's first private abortion clinic are to register with health regulators in a bid to increase public confidence in their services.
Representatives of Marie Stopes International told a Stormont committee it had voluntarily worked with the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) to establish a means by which its care provision could be assessed independently.
Tracey McNeill, the organisation's UK director, and other staff, including the Belfast clinic's director Dawn Purvis, were at Parliament Buildings in an effort to assure committee members that it was operating within the strict abortion law in Northern Ireland.
Despite repeated questioning from MLAs, Ms McNeill declined to reveal how many or even if any abortions had been carried out in the clinic since it opened last year, citing the importance of patient confidentiality. However, the delegation from the clinic did reveal that abortions had been refused.
Ms McNeill said: "The numbers of women we treat I think is largely irrelevant. What's really important is the numbers we are treating are going to be very, very low. I think what is important and why we are here today is to answer questions about do we meet the legal criteria for those women that we do treat and we know it's going to be very, very small numbers because of the criteria."
Legal abortions in Northern Ireland can only be carried out if there is an immediate risk to the woman's life or if it can be established that having the baby would have a serious impact on her long-term physical or mental health.
During an at times charged two-hour evidence session in the Senate Chamber, Ms Purvis told committee members that a factor in locating the centre on Great Victoria Street in Belfast was to make it accessible to clients travelling from the Republic of Ireland.
"The location of the centre was something that was paramount when I was looking at sites in Belfast because, yes, I was thinking of clients from all over the island coming to avail of our services and I wanted to assure there were good transport routes," she said.
On the issue of the RQIA, Ms McNeill said: "It has been, it always will be, without question, our goal to work with the RQIA in order to become regulated by that body to ensure that politicians and, importantly, the public can have confidence that our centre and our services provide the highest quality and standards of care within the law as it currently exists.
"And I am pleased to announce to this committee today that we have found a way forward with the RQIA and we have submitted an application for registration recently."