Should a Marie Stopes clinic open in Belfast?

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A Marie Stopes Family Planning Clinic is due to open in Belfast today - for the first time offering private abortions up to nine weeks gestation, within the strict confines of Northern Irish law.

The opening of the centre has stirred up a wealth of controversy. Here we ask two prominent local campaigners to put the case for and against the centre.

YES - by Goretti Horgan, a member of the Alliance for Choice

Alliance for Choice welcomes the opening of a Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast because we hope that it will reduce the number of women who are forced to travel to England while sick and distressed.

Many people are horrified by the very idea of abortion, they look at the photos of bloodied, fully-formed foetuses carried by anti-abortionists and, understandably, say “I don’t want anything to do with that”.

But the abortions being carried out in the Marie Stopes Centre are what 99% of abortions are about – the woman, who is between six and nine weeks pregnant, is given pills that bring on a miscarriage.

Most women know someone who jumped off tables, lifted bags of coal or potatoes, drank too much gin or sat in a too-hot bath in an effort to bring on a miscarriage. These pills do it safely. In fact, leading obstetricians say it is “as safe as taking an aspirin” and a recent study found that the death rate among men taking Viagra is five times that of women taking the abortion pill.

Precious Life and SPUC tell us that abortion is totally illegal in the North of Ireland but this is simply not true. Since the 1990s when a range of young women, mainly in the care of the state, went to court to be allowed travel to England, it has been clear that abortion is legal in Northern Ireland under certain


However, despite the courts being clear that abortion is legal here, it has not been available for most women, however unwell they are and even when it is very clear that continuing the pregnancy will leave them “a mental or physical wreck”.

Over the last twenty years, Alliance for Choice has helped women from Derry who were almost certainly entitled to a legal NHS abortion here travel to England for a private one. These were women with heart and kidney problems, with hypertension and with severe mental ill-health.

Of course, the majority of women who travel to England for abortion, or who these days get the abortion pill from one of the internet women’s groups, are not having abortions for reasons of ill-health.

Government research in the South found that women take the decision to have an abortion very seriously. It found that vital to the decision was the women’s assessment of her ability to care for a child at that time, not any remaining social stigma about lone parenting. The report concluded that “while abortion is often considered tantamount to a rejection of nurturance….many women set high demands for motherhood and speak of how little they can offer a child and the way it contrasts with how much they would like to offer a child, or what they consider appropriate to offer a child”. In other words, women say: I want better for my children than I would be able to offer now.

Most women from here who have abortions in England already have children and, in our experience, make the choice to terminate the pregnancy as much for the sake of the children they already have as for themselves.

With austerity and the coming welfare reforms, clinics in England report that the main reason now given for wanting an abortion is that the woman cannot afford a(nother) child.

Alliance for Choice campaigns for a woman’s right to choose. We believe that we need a new law on abortion in the North, that will help the many women who seek abortions. We also campaign against the welfare reforms which will make it more difficult for women to choose to continue unplanned pregnancies. We will be travelling to Belfast on Saturday to march against austerity. We hope to see you there.

NO - by Margaret Devlin, a member of Precious Life

Marie Stopes say they will work within the law in Northern Ireland. Many a report in recent days has claimed that abortion is legal here in certain circumstances. This is untrue.

The law in Northern Ireland which protects the unborn child is the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 which governs the crime of “Child Destruction”. Section 25 states that ‘any person who, with intent to destroy the life of a child by any wilful act causes a child to die before it has an existence independent of its mother, shall be guilty of child destruction, and liable to conviction’.

The crime of ‘Illegal Abortion’ is contained in the Offences Against The Person Act 1861.

Section 59 of this Act states ‘Whosoever shall unlawfully supply or procure any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, intended to be used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall be guilty of a crime, and be convicted’.

So the law here is very clear, any attempt to abort an unborn child is illegal and therefore punishable.

However, the laws that protect our unborn children do not stop doctors from performing all genuine life-saving treatment to pregnant women even if this causes the unfortunate and unintentional death of the unborn. Women are not being left to die or sent to England with their medical notes as Marie Stopes would have us believe. On the contrary they receive some of the best treatment the world has to offer. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has continually placed Ireland at the top of the league for maternal health. Women are safer in Ireland without recourse to abortion.

So what exactly are Marie Stopes going to provide. Well for the princely sum of £450, they will provide abortions to pregnant women up to 9wks. At first I found it strange that they have self-imposed an upper limit to their service, especially as they are claiming that they will help women whose lives are in danger, surely complications are more likely to arise in later pregnancy. But I realised that this is a first step to easing abortion into the conscience and the culture of the Irish people.

It may well sit easier with us that the unborn to be aborted will be under 9wks old but let’s not forget what we are dealing with here. At the moment of our conception a completely new and totally unique human is formed. This is not a religious statement but a

scientific one.

At that moment our complete DNA is present. We are distinct from our mother. We can be a different gender and even a different race from her. By 9wks our heart, brain, hands, feet and all our organs are present. The fact that we are human is indisputable. Whether or not we are allowed to live depends on Ireland remaining the pro-life country it has

always been.