MANAGEMENT from Northern Ireland’s first private abortion clinic will be summoned to Stormont to explain how they are complying with criminal law.
Democratic Unionist Party Northern Ireland assembly member Paul Givan, chairman of the justice committee, has said he would like to question Marie Stopes International, which opened its new centre amid protests in Belfast yesterday.
The invitation to address the justice committee was issued after Northern Ireland’s Attorney General – John Larkin QC – called for an investigation into the opening of the new clinic.
Speaking during a justice committee hearing yesterday, SDLP Member of the Legislative Assembly (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 will respond positively to any invitation so then we can enquire from them what their position is within the law.”
A spokesman for Mr Larkin’s office confirmed he had sent a letter to the justice committee. In it, the Attorney General said he was not allowed to intervene in an official capacity but could offer advice, act as counsel and interview witnesses in a non-statutory role.
DUP MLA Jim Wells, who also sits on the Stormont health committee, said the issue of abortion had now become a legal question.
He said: “There is huge public interest on this subject. It is only appropriate to examine it. This has become a legal issue rather than a health issue. The public expect us to do something.”
In Northern Ireland abortion is not illegal. However, it is only permitted if the life or mental health of the mother is at risk.
The new Marie Stopes facility will offer terminations up to nine weeks’ gestation, each costing £450. About 350 anti-abortion activists turned up to protest outside centre on Belfast’s Great Victoria Street.
Bernadette Smyth, from the Precious Life lobby group which organised the rally, said: “There is no will for Marie Stopes to be here – they are not welcome. “Unborn children are precious and there is no will for abortion to be legalised here from the people or politicians. It’s clear that unborn children are protected here. We are still seeking legal advice. I would not rule out an injunction. I am still working with the justice system and our politicians to ensure that Marie Stopes does not take the lives of any unborn children.”
She added: “We can celebrate today that Marie Stopes’ days are numbered. I expect the heads of government to run Marie Stopes out of Northern Ireland. Those who have come from faith backgrounds, from church backgrounds and all backgrounds continue to storm heaven with your prayers.”
Tracey McNeill, vice president and director of Marie Stopes UK and Europe, said the organisation would not break the law.