International abortion provider Marie Stopes is set to open the first private abortion center in Northern Ireland next week, under protest from pro-life activists. Abortion in Northern Ireland, a UK territory, is illegal unless a doctor declares the pregnancy would cause long-term physical or mental harm to the mother. That loophole is potentially large, but pro-life sentiment in Northern Ireland is strong enough that doctors have generally avoided termination procedures: Between 2006 and 2012, 678 medical and surgical abortions occurred in the territory.
The new abortion facility in Belfast will test the law’s limits by offering medical—drug induced—abortions to women up until the ninth week of pregnancy. Although the law permits abortion only for the sake of the mother’s health, the abortion center’s director, Dawn Purvis, seems to believe it depends only on a mother’s decision. “We offer a safe place for women and men to find support, be provided with help and counseling, to feel that they are being listened to and not judged,” she told the Irish Times. “It is a matter of choice, every step of the way.”
Purvis expects women to travel up from the Republic of Ireland, a predominately Roman Catholic nation with similar abortion restrictions, to use the new facility. Last year 1,007 women from Northern Ireland and 4,149 women from the Republic traveled to England or Wales for abortion procedures, since the law is broader in Britain. The Family Planning Association, a pro-abortion nonprofit organization in Belfast, helps women arrange the trips.
Pro-life activists have already promised to picket the abortion center when it opens Oct. 18.
“I am absolutely outraged,” Precious Life director Bernadette Smyth told the Associated Press. “An organization which is making profits from the death of unborn children is not welcome in Northern Ireland. There will be an outcry from the people, from government, and from the churches.”
Northern Ireland officials have delayed issuing abortion guidelines intended to clarify the law for doctors. Now the BBC reports that the Family Planning Association is challenging the government’s inaction in court.