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Ireland’s first abortion clinic opens, draws protesters

The Marie Stopes family planning center, the first private abortion clinic on the island of Ireland, opened in Belfast today.

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Abortion protesters holding up placards outside the Marie Stopes clinic, the first private clinic to offer abortions to women in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Oct. 18, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/ Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)

The first private abortion clinic on the island of Ireland opened in Belfast today, and several hundred protesters held a demonstration outside the building to voice their opposition to abortion under any circumstances, the Associated Press reported.

The anti-abortion protest drew both Protestants and Catholics, who sang religious hymns and made speeches despite pouring rain, the Guardian reported.

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, except if the pregnancy threatens the life or long-term health of the mother, according to the AP. The Marie Stopes family planning center will provide the abortion pill to women who are less than nine weeks pregnant and whose doctors certify that their life or health is at risk.

Northern Ireland hospitals perform up to 40 medical terminations a year, according to the Guardian. An estimated 1,000 more women a year travel to Britain or Europe for abortions. It is illegal to receive the abortion pill through the mail in the Republic of Ireland.

"The main need for the clinic is for the women who are ill or very distressed and have a right to a legal abortion here,” Goretti Horgan, leader of the Belfast-based Alliance for Choice, told the AP. Doctors often refuse to terminate pregnancies because they are personally opposed to abortion or because they want to avoid backlash from anti-abortion protesters, Goretti told the AP.

"Mostly what we'll be doing is offering advice,” Tracey McNeill, vice president of Marie Stopes, a British charity that operates clinics in more than 40 countries, said, according to the AP. “Many of the people we see we won't be able to treat, because of the legal framework.” The clinic will also counsel visitors on other women’s health issues, including contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/ireland/121018/ireland-belfast-abortion-clinic-opens-protesters