Martin McGuinness says Sinn Fein remains opposed to abortion liberalisation

Martin McGuinness Martin McGuinness said Sinn Fein's opposition to the liberalisation of abortion had been "consistent"

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Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, has said his party is opposed to any liberalisation of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland.

His comments come ahead of the opening of the first private abortion clinic on the island of Ireland next week.

The service, run by Marie Stopes, will operate in the centre of Belfast.

Mr McGuinness denied Sinn Fein's stance was the result of pressure from within the Catholic Church.

Northern Ireland is not covered by the 1967 Abortion Act and, unlike the rest of the UK, abortions can be carried out only to preserve the life of the mother or if continuing the pregnancy would have other serious, permanent physical or mental health effects.

'Grave dangers'

Speaking to Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme, Mr McGuinness said: "We've had a very consistent position down the years. Sinn Fein is not in favour of abortion and we resisted any attempt to bring the British 1967 Abortion Act to the north."

The deputy first minister added: "We believe that in circumstances where there is a risk to a woman's life, a risk to a woman's mental health and the grave dangers associated with that, in the final analysis a woman has to make her own decision."

He told the programme the party's position on abortion had "absolutely nothing to do with Catholic orthodoxy, its about what we believe is good for our people".

Recent attempts by some Sinn Fein activists to move the party towards a position where it supports a woman's right to choose have been voted down at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, its annual party conference.

However, Sinn Fein does support civil partnerships and the campaign to introduce gay marriage, in defiance of the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Mr McGuinness said that, although he had no problem with churches deciding who can get married within their own institutions, he supported the right of gay people to marry "on the basis of equality".

'Surprised'

The Sinn Fein representative also said he believed the new Marie Stopes clinic would operate in competition with existing NHS services in Northern Ireland.

He added that he was "surprised" at the involvement of the former Progressive Unionist Party leader, Dawn Purvis, who is the Belfast centre's programme director.

"Well it's a private institution, and I suppose some of us who know Dawn Purvis for a long time are a bit surprised that someone who would be a very strong advocate for the health service is now into effectively a private position within an institution that is setting itself up as something which is, if you like, a competitor to what's happening within the health service"," Mr McGuinness said.

The Marie Stopes clinic is to carry out medical, not surgical, procedures for women who are up to nine weeks pregnant and only within the existing legal framework in Northern Ireland.

The anti-abortion group, Precious Life, has called for the new clinic to be shut down, but Abortion Rights has welcomed its opening.

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