Marie Stopes in Belfast "Not Needed, Nor Wanted"
7 December 2017
The pro-life message outside the now-closing MSI clinic in Belfast in 2012 (AFT/Getty, adapt.)
Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast is set to close tomorrow.
The first private clinic to offer abortions in Northern Ireland is set to close tomorrow. The clinic has operated since October of 2012.
A "massive pro-life victory"
The director of Precious Life, Bernadette Smyth, was quoted by the BBC as describing the closure of the clinic as a "massive pro-life victory".
"For the past five years, Precious Life has maintained a pro-life presence outside the office - sacrificing many hours in reaching out to abortion-minded women, thus saving countless lives," she said.
The Irish Times report Ms Smyth as saying that the closure is all down to the dedication, commitment, and hard work of Precious Life volunteers. "We will now accelerate our efforts in helping women with unplanned pregnancies, liaising with agencies like Stanton Healthcare NI — because women and babies deserve better than Marie Stopes."
Marie Stopes said its Belfast clinic will shut so it can concentrate on dealing with patients through its national referral service, reports the BBC.
Abortion is only legal in Northern Ireland if continuing a pregnancy would put a woman's life at risk, or pose serious long-term damage to her physical or mental health.
In June, the Westminster government announced Northern Ireland residents would be given access to free ‘abortion services’ on the NHS in England, and in October, the government said women on low incomes - those on less than £15,300 a year - would also be entitled to help with their travel costs (BBC links). The Times reported that women in Northern Ireland will be able to access abortions free of charge in Scotland from the 6th of November.
In June, the Sunday Times reported figures from the Department of Health in England which revealed that 724 women from Northern Ireland made the journey to England or Wales for abortions – nearly two a day – in 2016. The overall figure was down from the 2015 total of 833.
The report also pointed out that some Northern Ireland women were already gaining free abortions in Scotland by naming the address of a Scottish friend as their home.
Marie Stopes UK described the government funding announcement as "ground-breaking," but added that it had also changed the way that patients accessed its services.
"Today more than three-quarters of the Northern Irish women we see, come to us directly via our national referral service," said its managing director, Richard Bentley.
"We expect this proportion to increase further now that treatment in England has been made more accessible."
Mr Bentley said the closure of the Belfast clinic would enable Marie Stopes to "focus its resources so that Northern Irish women can better access funded treatment in England".
Marie Stopes "has never been needed - nor wanted"
Quoted in the Irish Times, Richard Bentley said: "Ultimately, we believe that Northern Irish law should change to give women the right to access services without having to travel to England. Until that happens, we will continue to provide funded treatment for Northern Irish women in England."
Bernadette Smyth says that Marie Stopes "has never been needed - nor wanted - in Northern Ireland", reports the BBC.
At the end of 2017, and each for their own separate reasons, it would appear that both the pro-life and pro-abortion commentators would agree that the Marie Stopes clinic is not needed in Belfast.
MSI: protecting commercial interests
Liam Gibson of SPUC Northern Ireland comments: "While the closure of the Marie Stopes facility in Belfast is a welcome development, there can be little doubt that this decision was taken in the commercial interests of the abortion provider. The announcement in June that Theresa May’s government would reimburse the abortion industry for the cost of abortions carried out on women from Northern Ireland has allowed MSI to market its services as ‘free of charge’. MSI clearly feels it’s now possible to attract new clients without the expense of its Belfast facility. Its Belfast operation has also remained highly controversial and has been a focus of pro-life activity since the centre opened in 2012. We know abortion providers are desperate to avoid this kind of public attention and are actively seeking to criminalise pro-life outreach to women considering abortion. We also know from the damning reports of the Care Quality Commission that both MSI and BPAS have a long record of dangerous and illegal practices."
"It appears that MSI will not be seeking to expand its physical presence in Northern Ireland in the near future but, sadly, the danger MSI poses to the women and children here has not gone away."
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