BELFAST, United Kingdom — Hundreds of pro-life campaigners protested outside the first ever private abortion clinic in Northern Ireland as it opened to the public on Thursday.
Around 200 protesters brandishing placards saying "Life is precious" and showing photographs of foetuses were gathered outside the privately-run Marie Stopes clinic in central Belfast.
One banner read: "Abortion? The people of Northern Ireland say 'not in my name'."
Police have warned the media to avoid photographing or filming the faces of any clients or staff entering the clinic, which is housed in an unremarkable building.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said any film or pictures identifying anyone going into the building would be a breach of British law and the European Convention on Human Rights.
One protester, James Dowson, who had travelled from Scotland to represent the UK Life League, said the clinic was "a money-making business" and "a gruesome deadly business that deals with the killing of unborn children".
"We are here today to show solidarity with the people of Belfast," he told AFP.
"Marie Stopes is not wanted here, it's not wanted on the island of Ireland, north or south, where the people have repeatedly opposed and rejected abortion, but still these people, these internationalists, have come here."
It is extremely difficult to get an abortion in Northern Ireland, a British province where there is strong opposition to changing the law on terminating pregnancies.
Northern Ireland is not covered by legislation which allows terminations up to 24 weeks into pregnancies in England, Scotland and Wales, the other three nations in the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland, it is legal to terminate a pregnancy, but only in the first nine weeks and only if the mother's life is in danger or there is a risk to her mental or physical wellbeing.
Between 2006 and 2012, just 262 terminations were carried out in the province, which is home to 1.8 million residents.
In the Catholic-dominated Republic of Ireland, legislation is even more draconian, with abortion illegal unless it is performed to save the life of the mother.
Northern Ireland's health minister Edwin Poots this week warned the operators of the clinic to remain strictly within the letter of the law.
"Marie Stopes should be very cautious about what it does here, and we will ensure that the law is fulfilled," he told the Northern Ireland Assembly.
"If some people think that they can get away with not observing the law, they may find that it is not a paper tiger but one with a lot of teeth. I caution any physician who would seek to challenge it."
Ten policemen stood guard outside the clinic on Thursday, although it will be protected by private security guards under normal circumstances.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »