Thursday 23 February 2017

Scotland may offer free abortions to women from North

Claire Williamson

Nicola Sturgeon Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Nicola Sturgeon Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has offered to explore the possibility of giving women from Northern Ireland access to abortions in Scotland without facing prohibitive costs.

Ms Sturgeon made the assurance while responding to a question from Patrick Harvie MSP during First Minister's Questions yesterday in the Scottish Parliament.

Stormont has been under increasing pressure to change its current stance on abortion, which is only available in hospitals in Northern Ireland if there is a direct threat to the mother's life.

More than 830 women travelled to English hospitals and clinics from there in 2015 to have terminations, all of whom had to raise the money to pay for the procedure themselves.

Women from Northern Ireland are not entitled to free NHS abortions in England, which is currently being challenged at the Supreme Court.

Scottish Green Party co-convener Harvie asked the first minister to explore what can be done through the NHS in Scotland to break down the "financial barrier" many Northern Irish women face.

Mr Harvie pointed out that women from Northern Ireland had to fund their own private terminations, which can cost from £400 to £2,000.

He said this often adds further stress, time and complication to the process.

He then asked Ms Sturgeon; "Does the first minister agree that the national health service in Scotland should be exploring what can be done to ensure that those women are able to access abortion in Scotland, if that is where they choose to travel to, without facing that kind of unacceptable financial barrier?"

In response, Ms Sturgeon said she was happy to explore if any improvements could be made.

She said: "Like Patrick Harvie, I believe that women should have the right to choose, within the limits that are currently set down in law, and that that right should be defended.

"When a woman opts to have an abortion - I stress that that is never, ever an easy decision for any woman - the procedure should be available in a safe and legal way.

"That is my view. Patrick Harvie asked me to explore a particular issue for NHS Scotland and I am happy to do so."

While political opinion in Northern Ireland remains divided on the sensitive issue, the DUP have consistently opposed widespread access to abortion.

In a statement responding to the comments, a DUP spokesman said: "The law on abortion in Northern Ireland is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly to decide.

"It is a matter for the Scottish government to decide how they operate and pay for NHS services in Scotland."

Ms Sturgeon's comments were welcomed by Amnesty International Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan. He said: "Given the utter human rights failure of Northern Ireland's ministers to provide free, safe and legal abortion healthcare for women and girls, we welcome the commitment of Scotland's first minister to explore what can be done via NHS Scotland."

Irish Independent

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