Calls for change on abortion law
Pro-choice campaigners have called for the Irish Government to change the law on abortion after the Marie Stopes charity announced it is opening a private clinic in Belfast.
Rally For Choice, Choice Ireland and UCD Pro Choice Society say the new centre will make it easier for women across Ireland to access safe, legal abortions and hope it will reopen debate on the controversial issue.
"We call for the Irish Government to take note of this new positive step and finally legislate for the right of a woman to obtain an abortion when her life is in danger," a statement from the three lobby groups said.
"It is unacceptable that 20 years after women were granted the constitutional right to abortion (when their lives are in danger) that women in Ireland must take a case to the Irish or European courts in order to exercise their rights. We realise that this is only a small step in the campaign for free, safe and legal abortion, but it is a welcome step in the right direction."
The new medical facility at Great Victoria Street in Belfast city centre will be headed by former Progressive Unionist Party MLA Dawn Purvis. It will offer abortions, each costing £450, when it opens next Thursday.
Anti-abortionists including Stormont politicians and church leaders have reacted with fury and claim there is no demand for a private clinic.
Unlike other parts of the UK the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply in Northern Ireland. NHS terminations can only be carried out to preserve the life of the mother or if continuing with the pregnancy would seriously adversely impact on her physical or mental health.
In August Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots confirmed 416 medical abortions and 262 terminations of pregnancy had taken place in Northern Ireland between 2006/07 and 2011/12.
In May statistics published by the UK department of health revealed that overall the number of women travelling to England and Wales for abortions had dropped for the 10th consecutive year, from 4,402 in 2010 to 4,149 last year, a 7% decrease. The figures include almost 150 Irish minors, while more than half were women in their 20s; 1,289 were in their 30s; and 257 were aged over 40.
In the republic, a 14-member expert group on abortion is due to report back to Health Minister James Reilly on the implications of a 2010 European Court of Human Rights ruling on Irish abortion laws.