Northern Ireland’s First Abortion Clinic Opens, Draws Protests

Posted October 18th, 2012 at 11:40 am (UTC-5)
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The first abortion clinic on the predominantly Catholic island of Ireland has opened in the British-controlled northern city of Belfast.

The clinic operated by London-based family planning group Marie Stopes received its first clients on Thursday. Hours ahead of the opening, about 200 conservative Catholics and Protestants held a protest outside the clinic, holding signs with pro-life slogans such as “Keep Ireland Abortion-Free.”

Laws in the British province of Northern Ireland allow women to seek abortions only if they are less than nine weeks pregnant and doctors determine they are at risk of death or serious physical or mental damage from proceeding with the pregnancy.

Marie Stopes said the new Belfast clinic will only provide abortion pills to women who meet the legal requirements. It also will offer advice in dealing with contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. Representatives of the group said they respect the right of religious conservatives to protest the opening of the clinic. But the group said the rights of women to access reproductive health services also must be respected.

Northern Ireland's health minister, Edwin Poots, says authorities will monitor the clinic to ensure that it does not violate abortion laws. Abortions remain rare in the mixed Protestant and Catholic province, with doctors performing only about 40 terminations a year in recent years. Laws against abortion are even stricter in the neighboring Catholic-majority nation of Ireland.

Those restrictions lead thousands of Irish women to travel to Britain each year to seek abortions under more flexible British laws.