Scotland politics

Sturgeon considers giving NI women access to Scots NHS abortion service

Hospital ward, generic Image copyright PA
Image caption Scottish Green MSP Patrick Harvie believed the NHS in Scotland should allow Northern Ireland women to access its abortion service

Nicola Sturgeon said she would look into giving Northern Ireland women access to NHS abortions in Scotland without facing prohibitive costs.

Abortions are illegal in Northern Ireland except for cases where the woman's health is at risk.

That has led to women travelling to Great Britain seeking terminations.

But anti-abortion group Precious Life said allowing NI women to access NHS terminations would "run roughshod over the law and the democratic process".

The issue was raised by Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie, who said NI women should have access to the service without facing huge costs.

During First Minister's Questions at Holyrood on Thursday afternoon, Mr Harvie said: "Many women in Northern Ireland find themselves left with no option but to travel elsewhere in the UK to access legal and safe abortion.

"The time and the stress that this costs them is bad enough but there are also significant financial barriers, with some organisations supporting these women estimating that at the low end it costs them at least £400 and in many other cases more than £2,000.

"Does the First Minister agree that the NHS in Scotland should be exploring what can be done to ensure that these women are able to access abortion in Scotland, if that's where they chose to travel to, without facing these kind of unacceptable financial barriers?"

'Right to choose'

He said abortion should be treated as part of normal healthcare and not "stigmatised".

Ms Sturgeon said she believed that no woman "should ever be stigmatised" for having an abortion.

She added that abortion should not be seen in isolation and was a fundamental part of healthcare.

Ms Sturgeon told the chamber: "I am happy to explore that with the NHS. To explore both what the situation would be right now in terms of accessing safe and legal abortion for women from Northern Ireland within NHS Scotland and whether there's any improvements that are able to be made.

"I believe, like Patrick Harvie, that women should have the right to choose, within the limits that we currently set down in law, and I believe that right should be defended.

"And when a woman, any woman, does opt to have an abortion, and let's stress that is never, ever an easy decision for any woman, then abortion should be available in a safe and legal way."

'Public outcry'

In a statement, Precious Life's director Bernadette Smyth said abortion was a "criminal offence" in Northern Ireland which "exists to protect both mothers and their unborn children".

"To make provisions for women to access free abortions in Scotland would be to run roughshod over the law and the democratic process in Northern Ireland," Ms Smyth added.

"This will not go unchallenged. There will be a public outcry."

Women from Northern Ireland are not legally entitled to free abortions on the NHS in England following a High Court ruling in 2014, which is being challenged in a legal action at the UK Supreme Court.

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