Is the opening of Belfast’s 1st abortion clinic a “slippery slope” for N. Ireland?

Hoping for North Ireland to make the right choice.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes a “slippery slope” as “a course of action that seems to lead inevitably from one action or result to another with unintended consequences.” The online Free Dictionary gives this definition: “A tricky, precarious situation, especially one that leads gradually but inexorably to disaster.” “Slippery slope” is the phrase that came to mind when I read about North Ireland’s first abortion clinic.

The Marie Stopes in Belfast has stirred up lots of controversy since it opened last week. Over 300 protesters gathered outside the clinic on Oct. 18to oppose its presence in the city. It’s no secret that Ireland is a predominately Catholic nation with strong pro-life roots. Abortion is outlawed in Northern Ireland, except for cases where the mother’s life is in danger. Women who seek abortions for other reasons often travel to Britain to have them performed. Reports estimate that around 4,000 women from the Irish Republic and 1,000 from Northern Ireland travel annually to Britain for legal abortions services.

The workers of Marie Stopes are aware of North Ireland’s laws and have promised to abide by them. They stated that abortions by pill will be offered only to women who are less than nine weeks pregnant and have health conditions that would affect their pregnancy.

The vice president of Marie Stopes, Tracey McNeill, discussed the clinic, saying, “It’s not about increasing the number of terminations of pregnancies in Northern Ireland. It’s about providing it to that small number of people who will be eligible for it within their own country.” Although McNeill claims that the Marie Stopes clinic isn’t looking to increase the number of terminations, others strongly disagree. Liam Gibson, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, declared, “For Marie Stopes, this is only a first step.” Bishop Donal McKeown, the senior Catholic in Belfast, remarked on the clinic’s opening, saying, ” We are in the middle of a struggle for the soul of Northern Ireland.”

The Irish Times reports that Attorney General John Larkin is seeking to help the N. Ireland Assembly’s justice committee in examining the legality of the clinic. The director of Marie Stopes, Dawn Purvis, is against Larkin’s input because of a comment he made in 2008 comparing aborting a disabled baby to “putting a bullet in the back of the head of a child two days after it’s born.” Larkin’s comments were replayed on the radio this past Friday, which led to increased criticism against him. Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt believes that Larkin should withdraw his offer for help because of his clear moral position on the issue. SLPD leader Alasdair McDonnell stated: “If John Larkin expressed views as a private citizen, they are the views of a private citizen. He has not expressed those views as attorney general. I have no doubt that as attorney-general he will do his job.”

On Oct. 22, the Belfast Telegraph printed a letter to the editor written by the ministers and elders of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, expressing their opposition to the opening of the clinic in Belfast. They wrote: “Marie Stopes International has a long track record of supporting expectant mothers’ supposed ‘right’ to decide whether to kill their child or allow it to live. It is the duty of all those in authority, north and south, to ensure that this institution is not allowed to kill infants in the womb of mothers in their midst.” Another letter, written by a 74-year-old anonymous man, states his gratitude for the clinic. He writes, “Surely we are moving forward to have such a modern facility as the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast.”

It’s obvious that those who support and oppose the Marie Stopes clinic are both passionate about their positions. I believe that the opening of this facility is a step in the wrong direction for North Ireland. On October 16, 1916, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger opened the first U.S. birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY. The clinic offered birth control counseling, information, and supplies to women in the city. Like Marie Stopes, the clinic was restricted by the laws of the land, which made dispensing birth control illegal. Nine days after the clinic’s opening, Sanger and her sister Ethel Byrne were arrested and later convicted. Police closed the clinic and confiscated the birth control supplies and information. Sadly, the arrest led only to greater exposure and support for Sanger and her cause. The birth control clinic, which seemed insignificant at the time, was just a part of Sanger’s master plan. Almost 100 years later and with 55 million-plus  aborted in the U.S. alone, we now see that the opening of that first birth control clinic was a slippery slope for our nation. In a television broadcast, Marie Stopes VP Tracey McNeill said, “We understand the culture here in Northern Ireland; we don’t want to change the culture … and have abortion on demand. What this is about is offering choice.”

My prayer is that North Ireland will chose not to follow in the U.S.’s footsteps.

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