The first private clinic to offer abortions in Northern Ireland is to open in Belfast next week.
Officials say the clinic, which will be run by the international charity Marie Stopes, will provide women with terminations within Northern Ireland’s current legal framework, under which abortions are not illegal but are very strictly controlled, and which differs from that of the rest of the UK.
In Northern Ireland abortions can only be carried out in cases where continuing the pregnancy would have “a serious, permanent or long-term effect on the physical or mental health of the woman”.
There are stricter assessments carried out on women seeking abortion in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK regarding any impact on mental well-being, and the woman must speak to a GP and a psychiatrist.
All terminations must be carried out before nine weeks gestation and it must be a medical abortion, where two doses of pills are used.
In the other parts of the UK abortions can be carried out up until 24 weeks of pregnancy, and later if there is a serious medical reason.
The Marie Stopes clinic says it will only carry out medical procedures which are within the permitted nine-week gestation period. It says that the health professionals in the clinic will be from Nothern Ireland.
The clinic also revealed its services will be available to women from the Republic of Ireland if they meet the legal criteria in Northern Ireland.
Former Progressive Unionist Party leader, Dawn Purvis, who is the Belfast centre’s programme director, said: “Our clients’ needs are of paramount importance to us and how they access our services in a safe and secure route.
“We would hope that any client who comes to us can do so and access those services freely, safely and can come to a centre that will be supportive and non-judgemental.”
Figures show around 1,000 women from Northern Ireland travelled to other parts of the UK, including Scotland, to have an abortion in 2011.
Ms Purvis said she accepted there would be some controversy about the deicison to open the clinic and said security in the building would be closely monitored.
Jim Allister, leader of Traditional Unionist Voice and MLA for North Antrim in the Northern Ireland Assembly, said he believed that Marie Stopes was attempting to extend the availability of abortion.
He said: ”If they are going to operate within the parameters of the law, and do so accurately, why would anyone go to them when they can have that service, if they need it, under the law and have it free on the NHS.”
Pro-choice groups have welcomed the move saying it offered women in Northern Ireland more equal rights.
Darinka Aleksic, of the Abortion Rights group said: ”The fight for Northern Irish women to have the same rights as women in England, Scotland and Wales has a long way to go but this is a real step forward.”