A private company has announced it plans to open a clinic in Belfast that will provide abortions, the first such private clinic on the island of Ireland.

The Marie Stopes organisation says it will begin its services from next Thursday and that Dawn Purvis, a former leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, will be the centre's programme director.

Marie Stopes said it will be Belfast's first integrated sexual and reproductive health centre.

It will be located at a suite of offices in Great Victoria Street.

To offer abortion services to women it needs the approval of the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority. The necessary application has been lodged.

The law governing abortion in Northern Ireland is different to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Abortions can only be carried out in Northern Ireland in cases where continuing the pregnancy would have a serious, permanent or long-term effect on the physical or mental health of the woman.

It must be a "medical abortion", meaning pills are administered, and terminations must take place during the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

This is different to England, Scotland and Wales, where there is a 24-week limit for abortion.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms Purvis said that she expects people will travel from the Republic of Ireland for advice on abortion services.

Choice Ireland, a pro-choice organisation, has welcomed the news.

Spokesperson Sinéad Ahern said the opening of the clinic will reduce what she called the "psychological and financial burden" for women south of the border who are seeking a termination.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny, she said abortions will only be carried out in a case where there is a serious threat to the physical or mental health of the mother.

On the same programme, Senator Rónán Mullen said he would not be surprised if the Northern Assembly moved to close down the new clinic.