Protests as first Irish abortion clinic opens its doors
UP to 350 protesters gathered in Belfast today as the first private abortion clinic on the island of Ireland opened its doors for the first time.
The group included around 50 pro-life supporters from the Republic, who came out vigorously against the opening of the Marie Stopes clinic on Belfast's Great Victoria Street.
The protest passed off peacefully, despite the presence of a small opposing number of pro-choice activists holding a placard welcoming Marie Stopes to Northern Ireland.
The centre will offer 'medical abortions' to women up to nine weeks pregnant, in cases where the life of the woman, or her long-term mental or physical health, is deemed to be at risk. The terminations are priced at £450 (approx €550).
Shortly after the opening of the clinic this morning, pro-life campaigners were claiming a victory, with the announcement that Northern Ireland's Attorney General had called for an investigation into the opening of the clinic.
There were whoops and cheers as Bernadette Smyth, from the Precious Life lobby group – which had organised the rally – told the crowd that Marie Stopes' day in Northern Ireland “are numbered” with the news that John Larkin, chief legal adviser to the Stormont Executive, had written to the justice committee asking it look into the practices of the new facility.
She said her group are still looking into an injunction ordering the cessation of the clinic's operations.
In the meantime, the protesters “will have a presence as long as Marie Stopes is here,” she said.
Meanwhile, management at the abortion clinic will be summoned to Stormont to explain how they are complying with the criminal law.
DUP MLA Paul Givan chairman of the justice committee has said he would like to quiz Marie Stopes International.
An invitation to address the justice committee was issued after Northern Ireland's Attorney General called for an investigation into the opening of the new clinic.
Speaking during justice committee hearing this afternoon, SDLP MLA Alban Maginness said: "What worries me in relation to Marie Stopes is that this clinic is outside the National Health Service. It does not appear to be regulated.
"Given the contentious nature of their support for abortion it is necessary that the law is fully complied with and that we are assured by Marie Stopes. I think this is an important task for this committee and I hope that Marie Stopes organisation will respond positively to any invitation so then we can inquire from them what their position is within the law."