I haven't been hounded out, insists Dawn Purvis, as she leaves Marie Stopes abortion clinic after three turbulent years
Dawn Purvis is to step down from her high-profile role with Marie Stopes Northern Ireland, which in 2012 opened the first clinic on the island of Ireland that provides abortions under the current legislation.
Ms Purvis has denied she is moving on because of the pressure from the vocal pro-life lobby which culminated in a recent harassment court case involving a high-profile anti-abortion activist.
Describing Ms Purvis as "an extraordinary woman", the Marie Stopes organisation said she was leaving "to explore other challenges".
It's understood that she has no new job to go to - although she will remain on the Marie Stopes NI advisory board.
Ms Purvis has had a turbulent three years at the helm of the controversial abortion clinic, culminating in a bruising courtroom battle with Bernie Smyth of the anti-abortion Precious Life organisation.
Ms Smyth was convicted of harassing the clinic figurehead.
The former PUP leader and MLA was adamant that the relentless campaign waged against the clinic by anti-abortion campaigners played no role in her decision to quit.
"It's just time to move on," she said.
"It was very difficult at times - especially last year with the court case and the harassment - but I've put that behind me, and have concentrated in delivering services for women in Ireland."
She said she was enormously proud of the clinic's achievements.
"In the three years since Marie Stopes Northern Ireland opened, we've changed the character of public discourse on abortion.
"There is a level of public knowledge of the issues involved that was not the case when we opened. People now understand that abortion is legal in Northern Ireland.
"We've also provided a direct pathway for women to access abortion services - something that was not available previously; and we've provided a voice for women to lobby for better abortion services and fight those who are opposed to a woman's right to choose."
Asked if she was considering a return to political life, she said teasingly: "It's not something I'm thinking about at the moment. But never say never. I've no job to go to - so the first thing I will be doing is taking a break."
Breedagh Hughes, Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Midwives, paid tribute to the work of Ms Purvis and her team.
She said: "It's very sad that Dawn is moving on. She has highlighted vital healthcare issues that affect women in Northern Ireland. There's no doubt that the constant daily harassment Dawn has had to face will have taken its toll.
"Dawn's work at Marie Stopes has pulled back the curtain on an issue many would have preferred to keep hidden."
Marie Stopes UK director of policy, Genevieve Edwards, said: "We were so lucky to have Dawn and wish her every success in whatever she chooses to do. We are now actively recruiting for Dawn's successor to lead us into the next phase of the clinic's journey."
The Belfast Marie Stopes Clinic opened its doors in 2012, with former PUP leader Dawn Purvis as its first programme director. It continues to face strident opposition from anti-abortion campaigners.