Northern Ireland

Marie Stopes abortion clinic to be regulated: Edwin Poots

Health Minister Edwin Poots has given figures for abortions in Northern Ireland
Image caption Health Minister Edwin Poots said the clinic would be regulated

Health Minister Edwin Poots is taking legal advice to determine how to regulate Northern Ireland's first private abortion clinic.

The Marie Stopes Clinic is due to open in Belfast on 18 October.

Mr Poots told Sunday Politics that the clinic would be monitored in some way.

He is seeking clarification on whether the Regulation Quality and Improvement Authority, which already regulates a number of health bodies in Northern Ireland, can take on the role.

"I think it has to be regulated, but it will be regulated one way or the other, either through the police or ourselves, it will be regulated," Mr Poots said.

"But the Department of Health would rather be the organisation, through the RQIA, that's doing the regulation.

"We will confirm very soon whether that is going to be the case immediately or whether it's going to take a little longer to put procedures in place."

Tracey McNeill, vice president and director of Marie Stopes UK and Europe, said she would be delighted to talk to Mr Poots about how abortions can be regulated.

"Personally I've worked in healthcare for over 30 years," she said.

"I've worked for the Department of Health in the UK, I've helped draft standards and regulation, I've been a regulator.

"I would never, ever put teams of healthcare professionals or staff into a situation where they were doing something unlawful."

Marie Stopes has said it will provide terminations within Northern Ireland's current legal framework - abortions are not illegal but are very strictly controlled.

Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, is not covered by an abortion act.

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.

There is strict assessment regarding any impact on mental well-being and the woman must consult with two clinicians.

The Marie Stopes clinic has said it will carry out medical, not surgical, procedures only up to nine weeks' gestation and only within the existing legal framework.

It said that the health professionals in the clinic will be from Northern Ireland and that they will make the assessments, although the views of the woman's own GP will be taken into consideration.

The clinic's services will also be available to women from the Republic of Ireland, if they meet the legal criteria in Northern Ireland.

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