Abortion law amendment bid delayed
Blocking a controversial proposal to ban abortions in private clinics allows Marie Stopes to operate under a cloak of darkness, it has been claimed.
As expected, the proposed amendment to Stormont's Criminal Justice Bill fell after it failed to secure a cross party majority in the Assembly.
The proposal which was put forward by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) was lost even though 53 elected members backed it.
During an emotive and lengthy debate Health Minister Edwin Poots, who claimed to be speaking in his capacity as a Lagan Valley representative, said the Marie Stopes clinic which opened in Belfast last year would not now be held to account.
"The problem is nobody knows if the law is being breached because Marie Stopes is operating under a cloud of darkness. We could have stopped it but some people decided they would have a petition of concern to allow that business to carry on their practice under that cloak of darkness where nobody can hold them to account," Mr Poots said.
Abortions are not illegal in Northern Ireland but are very strictly controlled. Terminations are permitted if two or more doctors consider that the expectant mother's life is at risk.
Some MLAs want to go further, and ensure abortions in such emergency circumstances are only performed on the National Health Service.
SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey said there was no appetite for abortion in Northern Ireland.
Marie Stopes opened its Belfast clinic last October - the first anywhere on the island of Ireland. Management said they would work within the current legislation and only carry out medical abortions up to nine weeks' gestation. No surgical abortions would be performed at the Great Victoria Street facility, they said.
The amendment to the Bill was proposed by two senior members of the DUP and the SDLP. Of the 53 MLAs who voted in favour of the change nine were nationalist, and 44 unionist.