After she was questioned in parliament as to whether women from Northern Ireland would be able to access abortions free of charge on the NHS in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that the Scottish Government will look into the possibility of opening up access. During a visit to Dublin on Tuesday 29th November, Sturgeon said that her government would be holding talks with the Scottish NHS to discuss whether women living in Northern Ireland could come to Scotland to access abortions for free. Given that the NHS currently refuses to pay for abortions for women who travel to Britain from Northern Ireland, this could be a huge advancement for women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland, where abortion is currently illegal.
Whilst it is not yet clear whether these plans will be approved, Sturgeon has said that the Scottish Government are “looking in terms of the process and will discuss with the NHS what would happen now routinely, and whether there are options to change that, to make the process safer for the women concerned.”
At present, unless their health is at risk, women cannot access abortions safely and legally in Northern Ireland, and if they travel to Britain to obtain one, the cost can range anywhere from £400 to over £2000. Nicola Sturgeon has said that she believes that no woman should ever be stigmatised for having an abortion, and that women should have the right to choose and have this right defended. An estimated 2000 women a year have to raise this money to travel to private English clinics and hospitals to terminate a pregnancy, however the NHS’s refusal to fund these abortions is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court by a Northern Irish teenager, who had to travel to England when she was 15 to access a safe abortion.
If Sturgeon’s plans are successful, it could help break down some of the financial barriers and stigma in place currently preventing vulnerable women and girls from accessing safe terminations in Northern Ireland, and would hopefully act as a stepping stone to providing all women across Britain with the right to choose when it comes to their reproductive rights.
[Hannah Burke – @hannahcburke_]