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Belfast's Marie Stopes clinic -- the last thing vulnerable women need is a culture war over abortion

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Dawn Purvis at the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast
Dawn Purvis at the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast

At the very start of October, I became one of the official diaspora. I have a new job (in the glamorous world of TV production) in a new city (Manchester) and generally couldn’t be more chuffed.

What I am decidedly unchuffed about though is news from the city I left behind: Belfast. It seems that the unholy (and I use that term advisedly) forces of anti-choice zealotry are to descend upon Great Victoria Street this week to protest a Marie Stopesclinic that is opening there and eventually try to shut it down. Those opposing the clinic such as politician Jim Allister, a man who has found himself back in the 1950’s without a DeLorean, and Precious Life spokeswoman Bernadette Smyth claim that there is no need or want for such a clinic in Northern Ireland. Riiiight...

1,007 women went to England and Wales from Northern Ireland last year for an abortion. Expressed as a percentage of the whole population that accounts for 0.056% of the population; a twentieth of a percent. Bernadette Smyth suggests herself the amount of women traveling for abortions has reduced by a third over the last 15 years.  So why then, given the NI public’s supposed attitudes to abortion and the statistically miniscule amount of women from there who’ve availed of them, does a Marie Stopes clinic constitute such a moral menace? You’d think if that was the case they’d just let them set up, see tumbleweed go through their premises, lose money and pack up again. But no, logic never was one of the hallmarks of the Every Sperm Is Sacred Patrol.

Read more: Major security for Northern Ireland’s first abortion clinic in Belfast

Alas, the abortion debate lies uneasily at the intersection between compassionate pragmatism and pupil-dilating absolutism. The Marie Stopesclinic will provide a range of sexual health services, one of which will be providing a pill for women up to nine weeks pregnant to take if they, for only the most serious health reasons, no longer wish to be pregnant. Even though Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are literally an era behind the rest of the UK (abortion has been legal since 1967 in England, Wales and Scotland), this much is currently legal. And yet, as is the case in the South, hardline anti-choicers want to take something that isn’t legal (and isn’t even under threat of becoming legal any time soon) and make it super duper illegal.

One thing pro and anti choice people do agree on though is that the ideal number of abortions a year would be zero. But, living as we do in a far from ideal world, there has to be some facility for those thousand or so women who desperately need help. If it were only one woman in the whole province in need of that help, the Marie Stopes clinic’s presence would still be justified.

But try telling that to those who proclaim to be pro-life but never say a word about a child’s welfare post-womb, picket services for vulnerable women and throw words like “murder” around while they’re doing it. It never fails to amaze that for people who seem to care so deeply about the life of the unborn, they can be so callous in their treatment of actual human beings.

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