The law is no “paper tiger” and will closely monitor Northern Ireland’s first private abortion clinic, the health minister has warned.
Edwin Poots said 150,000 lives may have been saved by the prohibition of most terminations in the region in recent decades and added those infringing legislation containing strict conditions for abortion could face life imprisonment.
The Marie Stopes Clinic is due to open in Belfast on Thursday.
Mr Poots told the Assembly: “If individuals carry out abortions outside of the legislation then they are breaking the criminal law and subject to sentences of up to life imprisonment.
“Those within the Marie Stopes Clinic would be well advised to observe the law. If some people think they can get away with not applying it then they may find that the law is not a paper tiger but one with a lot of teeth and I would caution anybody who would seek to challenge that.”
He said the health department had twice produced guidelines on the powderkeg issue and twice they had been overturned by the courts, once by the pro-abortion lobby and once by their opponents.
“It is very difficult therefore to ensure that they are bomb-proof in terms of judicial review,” he said.
Marie Stopes has said it will provide terminations within Northern Ireland’s current legal framework - abortions are not illegal but are very strictly controlled.
Abortions in Northern Ireland can be carried out only to preserve the life of the mother, or if continuing the pregnancy would have other serious, permanent physical or mental health effects.