Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: We need clarity on abortion now

In this newspaper today we give the views of 50 women on the opening of the Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Belfast. We don’t claim it is a scientifically based sample, but it does include women from a wide cross section of society.

We feel it is vital that women are asked about this important issue because the debate on abortion is often carried out mainly by men.

Indeed during a debate in Stormont yesterday only one woman asked a question. It makes sense that women should be heard when the central argument is what women should be allowed to do with their own bodies.

There is a myth which cannot be allowed to grow that women do not treat abortions seriously; that indeed they may seek a termination as a kind of last ditch contraception. That is obviously quite wrong. The termination of a pregnancy for any woman, in virtually every circumstance, is a profoundly serious matter. It is not a step that is taken lightly or without a lot of personal questioning.

Of course we respect the views of people — on religious or moral grounds — who feel strongly that abortion is wrong in all circumstances. They have every right to hold those views. But there is a wider number of people who feel that within certain limits and in certain circumstances a termination is a necessary option. Their views are equally valid and should be respected equally.

Abortion is an issue of many shades and many nuanced opinions. It was therefore quite surprising to find that the DUP, when approached for |comment, issued a statement on behalf of MEP Diane Dodds and said that represented the views of every woman in the party.

Indeed it is astonishing that every woman in Northern Ireland’s largest party should hold exactly the same viewpoint on such a complex topic. As our interviews show women in general hold a wide variety of views and quite rightly so.

Health Minister Edwin Poots has taken a strange approach to the opening of the new clinic, asking the Chief Medical Office to consult with the Chief Constable and for police to investigate any concerns.

Quite understandably a police spokesman has said that the Force is not responsible for the regulation of health clinics or enforcing guidelines relating to them, although it would investigate any alleged breaches of the criminal law, a clear suggestion that it doesn’t welcome any buck passing from Stormont.

Mr Poots should press ahead with issuing clear guidelines on abortion and passing legislation which would allow terminations to be carried out but in a carefully controlled manner.

At the moment there are grey areas surrounding the issue of abortion which serves no one — women or their medical advisers — well.

The arrival of the Marie Stopes clinic may well force the Minister to take the only realistic option and bring clarity to the issue.

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