Northern Ireland health minister says law on abortion is 'clear'

Monday 15 October 2012 23.07
The Marie Stopes clinic is due to open in Belfast on Thursday
The Marie Stopes clinic is due to open in Belfast on Thursday

Northern Ireland's Health Minister Edwin Poots has said the law on abortion in Northern Ireland is "clear".

Responding to an "urgent" question tabled by the Traditional Unionist Party leader in the Stormont Assembly, Mr Poots said his department will ensure that the Marie Stopes clinic complies with current legislation.

The clinic is due to open in Belfast on Thursday.

He said the law "was not a paper tiger" and that those who acted outside of it could be subject to imprisonment.

TUV leader Jim Allister asked the minister "was it not the case" that the current monitoring arrangements in place would "ensure only that the unborn are killed in hygienic conditions" and would not address wider concerns of how many abortions are conducted and on what basis.

Mr Poots said it was his intention that every termination carried out in Northern Ireland would be recorded using a new data-collection system announced by his department in August.

Sinn Féin's Sue Ramsey said there was a lot of concern about the lack of guidance for medical professionals.

She asked the minister for a timeframe for when guidelines in this regard would be issued.

Minister Poots responded that two sets of guidelines had already been produced, but that both had been successfully judicially reviewed.

He described the situation as "a huge legal minefield" and that while he was sympathetic to doctors, "identifying a way forward" in this regard was proving to be very challenging for his department.

The health minister told the Assembly that private clinics operating there needed to be "very cautious" about what they were doing.

He said his department would seek to make every effort to ensure the law was not broken.

Mr Poots opposes any extension of the rule governing abortion and did not think there "was an appetite for abortion on demand" in Northern Ireland.

Terminations can only be carried out in the North up to nine weeks in cases where continuing the pregnancy would have a serious, permanent or long-term effect on the physical or mental health of the woman.

The centre will be the first of its kind on the island of Ireland and says it will offer women medical abortions in line with current legislation.

The centre's director, Dawn Purvis, has already said she expects people will travel from the Republic of Ireland for advice on abortion services.

The clinic's services will be available to women from the Republic of Ireland as long as they meet the legal criteria in Northern Ireland.