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Belfast abortion clinic to open
Northern Ireland's first private abortion clinic is to officially open amid protests from pro-life campaigners.
The Marie Stopes centre on Belfast's Great Victoria Street offers terminations, each costing £450. Hundreds of anti-abortion campaigners, who claim there is no demand for Marie Stopes in Northern Ireland, have organised a mass rally to show their opposition.
Paula Davison, from the Precious Life lobby group, said demonstrators who will be carrying placards have been urged to behave with dignity. She said: "It is a prayer rally so obviously it is going to be very peaceful. We do not want any violence or intimidation - definitely not in our name."
In Northern Ireland abortion is not illegal but is strictly controlled. The procedure is only permitted if the life or mental health of the mother is at serious risk.
Marie Stopes said its new facility, which is headed by former Progressive Unionist Party MLA Dawn Purvis, will operate within the current legal framework, providing medical not surgical terminations up to nine weeks' gestation with aftercare including counselling.
Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots has said the new centre will be closely regulated and warned that any breaches of the law could be punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Liam Gibson, development officer with the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said his organisation was determined to have the new clinic closed.
He said: "We are against the opening of the Marie Stopes clinic and we are committed to seeing it shut down as an abortion clinic. Abortion cannot be offered as a routine service under the law. It is incompatible with the law."
Meanwhile, pro-choice campaigners have said they will not be holding a counter-demonstration out of respect for the women wanting to use the centre.
Goretti Horgan, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Choice, said they will have a show of support for Marie Stopes during a trade union anti-austerity march in Belfast on Saturday. She said: "We want to see the 1967 Abortion Act extended to Northern Ireland and Marie Stopes coming here is very important and symbolic."