The first abortion clinic on the island of Ireland is scheduled to open today, with opponents preparing a protest outside its doors in central Belfast.
Marie Stopes International, which has 629 centers in 40 countries, is opening the clinic in downtown Belfast in the U.K. region of Northern Ireland at 1:00 p.m.
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have some of the toughest anti-abortion laws in Europe. In Northern Ireland, the procedure can only be performed in the first nine weeks of pregnancy and only if a women’s health is at serious risk. South of the border, abortions are illegal unless a women’s life is at risk.
“Our unborn children must be protected,” Bernadette Smyth, head of Precious Life, an anti-abortion group, said on the organization’s website, laying out its plans for a “a massive peaceful prayer rally” at the clinic today. “It is vital that all good people of faith be there to pray to stop this terrible evil.”
The clinic’s director, Dawn Purvis, a former lawmaker in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing assembly, said last week Marie Stopes will operate strictly within the U.K. region’s laws. Elsewhere in the U.K., abortions can be carried out up to 24 weeks and with no need to show a woman would have severe psychological or physical harm should she give birth.
Last year around 1,000 women from Northern Ireland traveled to mainland U.K. for abortions, according to Britain’s Health Ministry. Some 4,000 women from the Republic of Ireland traveled to Britain for terminations.