Presbyterian ministers have joined a growing list of organizations–religious, secular and political–opposing last week’s opening of an abortion clinic in Belfast, Northern Ireland, operated by Marie Stopes, theLondon based International Non-Governmental Organization working on Sexual and Reproductive Health.
“We believe God, not man, has the ability to declare when a human life begins,” the church said in a statement quoted by The Belfast Telegraph.
Northern Ireland Minister for Health Edwin Poots, meanwhile, is coming under growing pressure from political rivals for not speaking up earlier about what he knew about the clinic. They say Poots knew about the clinic’s plans since January, but said nothing about a development that caught many here by surprise.
Last week Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin said he would investigate the legality of the clinic.
In a BBC interview in 2008 Larkin– before becoming attorney general–compared terminating the pregnancy of a disabled child to ‘putting a bullet in the back of the head of the baby two days after it’s born.”
The Marie Stopes International clinic that opened Oct. 18 is the first reproductive health center of any kind that provides abortions on the entire island of Ireland, South or North. It will only offer medical–not surgical–abortions up to nine weeks of gestation if the life of the mother is in danger or if there is long-term risk to her physical or mental health.
Marie Stopes officials, who said they would strictly follow the law, described the facility as answering a longtime call for family planning for the women of Northern Ireland, reports The Associated Press.
The abortion procedure will be available to women from the Republic as long as they adhere to the legal criteria in the North.
Religious and political figures from throughout the country joined 300 protesters on Belfast’s Great Victoria Street at the opening. Protesters want the clinic shut down so it won’t become a foothold for expanding abortion rights in Northern Ireland.
These protesters far outnumbered the roughly 20 people who showed up to support the clinic, according to The Belfast Telegraph.
An estimated 1,000 women from Northern Ireland and an estimated 4,000 women from the Republic travel to the U.K. every year for abortions, according to widespread estimates.
Abortion in the South is illegal except when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. However, the absence of legislation about what might constitute a legal abortion leaves women who might legally qualify still often traveling to the United Kingdom for the procedure.
Abortion laws are not as restrictive in Northern Ireland, but the North is not included in the Abortion Act of 1967thatlegalizes abortion to varying degrees on the U.K. mainland.
BIO: Claire Mc Cormack is a writer and reporter based in Dublin/ New York. A regular contributor to RTÉ Radio 1 show The God Slot, she covers religious current affairs, women’s issues and social trends.