Northern Ireland

Marie Stopes: NI's first private abortion clinic 'not re-opening'

The Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast
Image caption Marie Stopes opened its Belfast clinic in October 2012

Marie Stopes UK has said it has no plans to resume providing services in Northern Ireland despite anticipated changes in rules around abortion.

The clinic opened in Belfast in 2012, offering medical abortions in early pregnancy.

It closed in December 2017 after the government announced women could access NHS-funded terminations in England.

Marie Stopes has now said it has no plans to "resume providing services in NI".

A spokesperson told BBC News NI: "As an organisation which has long supported the push for abortion access in Northern Ireland, we are delighted that MPs have taken the opportunity to demand reform and give every woman in the UK access to safe, legal abortion."

Opposing rallies

Two rallies, one organised by those who support abortion law change in NI and the other by those who oppose it, took place in Belfast city centre on Saturday.

Both protests attracted large crowds, and combined to close roads and halt traffic.

The rallies took place ahead of an anticipated change in the rules around abortion in Northern Ireland.

Image caption Both the anti-abortion rally (left) and pro-choice rally attracted large crowds in Belfast city centre on Saturday

There is no statutory framework for permitting legal abortion in Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK.

In July, Parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act, which included a provision putting a duty on the government to regulate to provide access to abortion in Northern Ireland.

The regulation will come into effect if the devolved Stormont government is not restored by 21 October.

The laws would then be required to be in place by the end of March 2020.

'A sensitive devolved issue'

A government report published this month said there would be a "criminal moratorium" around abortion law if the devolved assembly is not restored.

The document, published by the Northern Ireland Office, said any change on abortion remained a "sensitive devolved issue", and the preference would be to have any legislative change brought forward by a restored executive.

Both lives Matter, an organisation which does not want change to current laws in Northern Ireland, said it welcomed the recent statement from Marie Stopes but that it was aware plans can change.

Spokesperson Marion Woods said: "The genuine concern around what this new abortion regime imposed on us by Westminster will look like can no longer be ignored.

"Tens of thousands of people from across Northern Ireland came out this weekend in support of both lives.

"This news from Marie Stopes does not therefore reduce our concerns as there are other abortion providers that may take advantage of that unregulated limbo. "

Alliance for Choice supports change to Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

In a statement it said: "For us the bottom line is that from 22 October women and pregnant people will no longer face prosecution for obtaining abortion pills, medical professionals will no longer be unable to properly consult with their patients and finally we will no longer be required to travel far away from friends and family to access the healthcare we need and deserve.

"We have very little control over what that provision will look like in NI, beyond making recommendations based on the personal experiences of the people we represent, but we will continue working hard to ensure that the stigma surrounding abortion is done away with and we can access free, safe and legal abortion services by March 2020."

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