In an earlier post we discussed the opening by Marie Stopes International of a sexual and reproductive health centre in Belfast that would provide non-surgical abortions up to twelve weeks’ gestation – and the ensuing controversy.
The BBC now reports that the Northern Ireland Attorney General, John Larkin QC, has called for a Stormont investigation into the opening of the clinic and has written to the Norther Ireland Assembly’s Justice Committee inviting it to investigate the clinic’s operations. According to the BBC, in a letter to the committee’s chairman Mr Larkin said that he cannot intervene in his official capacity but in his non-statutory role as guardian of the rule of law he can become engaged. He offered to assist the Committee by acting as its counsel and questioning witnesses on its behalf.
News of the Attorney’s offer provoked some strong reactions. On Friday, the BBC further reported that in May 2008 Mr Larkin had been involved in a panel discussion on Radio Ulster in which he was asked whether abortion would ever be justified in the case of foetal abnormality – to which he allegedly replied:
“If one is prepared to contemplate the destruction of a highly disabled, unborn child in the womb, one should also be prepared to contemplate, I think, putting a bullet in the back of the head of the child two days after it’s born”.
Among the other members of the panel was former MLA Dawn Purvis, now director of the Marie Stopes Clinic, who described his comments as a disgrace.
On Friday, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell stressed that Mr Larkin was speaking as a private citizen:
“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 as Attorney General he will do his job”.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and Alliance MLA Anna Lo, on the other hand, have both now called on the Attorney to step back from discussions on the clinic. Said Mr Nesbitt:
“It was such a stark declaration of his moral position that it has to cloud how we look on his offer of legal counsel to the Assembly committee and, after all, that’s not his primary role. He wanted to go as far as perhaps interviewing witnesses – that is an MLA’s job and I think under the circumstances it would be better if the Attorney General withdrew his letter of offer”.