Scotland could look to offer women from Northern Ireland access to abortions

Sturgeon says abortion ‘should be available in a safe and legal way’

Scotland could look to offer women from Northern Ireland access to abortions

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arrives ahead of First Minister's Questions in the main chamber at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh | Image: Jane Barlow PA Wire/Press Association Images

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon is considering opening up NHS Scotland facilities to women seeking abortions in Northern Ireland.

Responding to a question from Green party MSP Patrick Harvie on Thursday, the first minister said: “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 safe 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."

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

Abortion is only available in Northern Ireland’s hospitals when there is a direct threat to the mother’s life if the pregnancy continues. In all other cases abortion is illegal. Last year, 833 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England to avail of the procedure, according to UK government figures.

It comes as the Supreme Court is considering an application from a Northern Irish teenager who had to travel to England for a termination at 15-years-old.

The young woman at the centre of the case, identified as 'A', is now 19. In October 2012, she and her mother travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester and was told she had to pay hundreds of pounds for a private termination because she was excluded from free abortion services.

Amnesty response

Speaking on The Pat Kenny Show, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said the law governing abortion in Northern Ireland "predates the invention of the light bulb".

"The 1861 Offences Against The Person's Act basically says any woman inducing a miscarriage or having an abortion is liable for criminal prosecution, and is liable for a penalty of a criminal sentence of up to life in prison," he said. "The Health Minister in Westminster has refused to allow Northern Irish women to access abortions on the NHS".

The Abortion Act, 1967, was never extended to Northern Ireland and an attempt to ease the law to include cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancy via sexual crime was rejected earlier this year.

He added that the DUP, the largest party in Northern Ireland, do not want any change to the law on abortion, and called the SLP's similar stance as "draconian".