UK & World News
Abortion Row Over Belfast Marie Stopes Clinic
Four hundred pro-life campaigners are staging a mass rally in Belfast in protest at the opening of the first private abortion clinic in Ireland.
They braved pouring rain to occupy an area directly outside the Marie Stopes centre and the opposite side of Great Victoria Street in the city centre.
Some held large banners proclaiming the word "life", others waved placards bearing graphic abortion images in a bid to make their point.
"We're protesting against murder," said one protestor. "Protestants and Catholics have united against the opening of this clinic," said another.
Until now, women seeking a termination have had to travel to Great Britain, but the new clinic in Belfast lists "medical abortion up to nine weeks' gestation" among its services.
Dawn Purvis, programme director at Marie Stopes Northern Ireland, said: "We will be able to meet family planning and sexual health needs in a way not seen here before."
The 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland - termination remains illegal unless there is an immediate threat to the mother's mental or physical health.
Liam Gibson, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "The law is clear. The Northern Ireland Assembly has jurisdiction over abortion, not Marie Stopes."
Precious Life, the group behind the protest, branded the opening of the clinic "evil". They urged people to participate in three days of "prayer and fasting" in opposition.
Department of Health figures show 43 abortions were carried out in Northern Ireland hospitals last year. However, 1,007 women travelled to England or Wales for a termination.
One of those women spoke to Sky News on condition of anonymity.
"It was very stressful, not just the fact that it was unplanned, but having to think about where to get the money to travel to England for the procedure and keeping it secret," she said.
"You can't really have an opinion unless you're in that situation. You're not entitled to express an opinion unless you've been there and been faced with that decision to take."
Pro-choice groups have opted not to stage a counter-demonstration outside the clinic. They feared that would up the ante further and deter potential clients from attending.
Tracey McNeill, UK and Europe Director for Marie Stopes International, confirmed they had hired security guards to ensure the safety of staff and patients.