Northern Ireland Attorney General John F. Larkin has called for an investigation of the opening of a Belfast abortion clinic, emphasizing that abortion is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
“It is a matter of very great concern that abortions could be carried out in circumstances where their legal standing cannot be readily known or ascertainable either by the wider public or by those responsible for the administration of justice,” Larkin wrote Oct. 16 to Paul Givan, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Parliament’s Committee for Justice.
Larkin said such concern is “increased” given that clinic operator Marie Stopes International considers abortion law in Northern Ireland to be “unduly restrictive” and “makes little secret of its desire to make abortion easier here.”
On Oct. 18 Marie Stopes opened an abortion clinic in Belfast to protests from Catholics and Protestants alike. About 400 protesters lined the sidewalk, singing hymns and praying. Protesters showed pictures of babies, with some showing graphic photos of the remains of unborn abortion victims.
The Belfast clinic charges the British equivalent of about $128 for a consulting fee and $562 for the abortion, according to figures on the Marie Stopes website.
The clinic directors said they will obey Northern Ireland law, saying it allows abortion only when the mother’s life or long-term health is endangered. They said they will only perform abortions when the pregnant woman is less than nine weeks pregnant.
However, Larkin’s letter focused on criminal liability. He said an abortion in Northern Ireland may not result in criminal liability if during a trial the jury considers that the abortion fit these specified qualifications. He stressed that an abortion based only on the abnormality of an unborn child is always against the law.
Larkin’s office cannot compel Marie Stopes to disclose information necessary to judge the legality of the clinic’s activities. He invited the Committee for Justice to investigate the clinic and pledged his support if it decides to investigate.
Liam Gibson, Northern Ireland development officer of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, welcomed the inquiry.
He said the clinic is “probably the greatest threat against the right to life of Northern Ireland’s unborn children.”
In his view, only public opinion prevented legal abortion from being forced on Northern Ireland in the past.
“Public opinion must demand action to shut this center down,” Gibson said Oct. 19. “There is too much evidence of Marie Stopes’ involvement in illegal abortions in other countries for claims that the Belfast center will operate inside the law to hold any credibility.”
The pro-life group Precious Life also praised Larkin’s action. It said his letter shows that media reports repeated the “lie” that abortion is legal in certain circumstances. It contended that a criminal offense can never be legal under any circumstances.
“A doctor or health professional on trail for committing the offence of abortion would have to prove to a jury that the life or physical or mental health of the mother could not have been saved in any other way,” the group said Oct. 18.
Marie Stopes refers women to abortion clinics in the rest of the U.K., where abortion is allowed up through 24 weeks of pregnancy with the permission of two doctors.