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Irish women need protection from disgraced Marie Stopes and British Pregnancy Advisory Service

7 February 2017


A protest outside the Marie Stopes office in Belfast.

The UK’s biggest abortion provider, which has been under scrutiny since a series of damning Care Quality Commission reports, has announced that it will begin turning Irish women away from its clinics, blaming overwhelming demand for its services.

A Marie Stopes spokeswoman said that January and February are always the busiest times of year, and that they were "managing demand" by focusing on NHS cases. Any women travelling from the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland are classified as private patients.

Overwhelming demand? 

However, Liam Gibson, SPUC's Northern Ireland development officer, is sceptical of the claims. "The 'overwhelming demand' for abortion, if it actually exists, certainly isn't coming from Irish women," he said. "The number of women travelling from both parts of the island has been declining steadily for the past 15 years (from 6673 and 1577 in 2001 for the Republic and the North respectively, down to 3451 and 833 in 2015). Is there any record of even one person who wanted an abortion failing to get one?"

The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) said that 11 women travel to Britain every day for an abortion. An average of 552 abortions are carried out in England, Scotland and Wales every day.

The small number of Irish women travelling may not be the only reason behind Marie Stopes' announcement, Mr Gibson suggests. "Perhaps the complaint that their service is under strain is meant to excuse the damning report of the CQC?"

Pushing abortion in Ireland

There may also be political considerations at play. BPAS, to whom Marie Stopes plans to transfer Irish clients, also claimed that its services were under strain. "We're looking at our capacity across the country," a spokeswoman said. "Irish women may have to go to slightly different locations to access our services."

ARC immediately used the comments to push for abortion to be legalised in Ireland. "Instances like these serve as a reminder that the Irish government has abdicated its responsibility to women and pregnant people in Ireland," Linda Kavanagh, a spokeswoman, said.

Mr Gibson does not find these comments surprising at a time when a Citizen's Assembly is debating the question of abortion in Ireland. "I assume this threat to turn away Irish women is intended to add to the pressure to legalise abortion in Ireland and therefore open a new market to British abortion providers.”Pressure to legalise abortion is mounting both in Ireland, and in Northern Ireland, where elections have been called for 2 March. The Independent newspaper today released a video which accused Northern Ireland of restricting "reproductive rights" because of "religious fundamentalism".

Enlightened pro-life laws

Liam Gibson said: "Rather than lamenting lack of access to abortion, maybe the media should be praising Northern Ireland for not exposing women to the so called 'care' of the abortion industry. The recent CQC reports about Marie Stopes, and now the news that clients of BPAS all too frequently end up in hospital, show how enlightened Northern Ireland's laws, which protect women and babies, really are."

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