Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish government will look into the possibility of giving Northern Irish women free abortions.
The Scottish First Minister told the devolved parliament she is considering the proposal, in response to a question from Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie. She told the chamber: “I am happy to explore with the NHS what the situation is now in terms of the ability of women from Northern Ireland to access sage and legal abortion in NHS Scotland and whether any improvements can be made.
“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.”
Unlike the rest of the UK, abortion in Northern Ireland is a criminal offence for which women can face life in prison. Abortions are banned for all circumstances unless a woman’s life is in danger, including in cases where a woman has been raped or the foetus has a fatal abnormality meaning it will not survive outside the womb.
In November 2015, a high court judge ruled the laws breach human rights legislation, however the following Spring the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to keep the ban regardless. Westminster has been urged to overturn the laws by passing legislation in Westminster.
In addition to being illegal to have an abortion in Northern Ireland, Northern Irish women are not entitled to free NHS abortions when they travel to England for the procedures and instead have to pay for private healthcare. The total cost of travelling for the procedure is estimated at around £1,000.
The Supreme Court is currently considering a legal challenge brought by a Northern Irish woman arguing it is discriminatory for NHS England to refuse Northern Ireland women abortions as they are UK citizens. However, the NHS has argued that as the procedure is banned locally they are not entitled to procedures in England either.
Earlier this year a 21-year-old woman was convicted in a Belfast court of having an abortion. The court was told the woman had an unplanned pregnancy and tried to raise enough money to travel to England for a termination but could not afford to do so. Instead, she bought pills online and performed a termination on herself at home. Her flatmates found blood-stained items and foetal remains in a bin and subsequently called the police who attended the scene and arrested her.
Another Northern Irish woman is due to appear in court accused of helping her daughter have an abortion.
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