During a visit to Dublin, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government is considering granting access to free abortions for Northern Irish women in the Scotland's NHS hospitals. She confirmed that the Edinburgh devolved government would hold talks with the Scottish NHS that could possibly allow women from Northern Ireland to have abortions for free on the health service. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland unless the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life, and the NHS has so far refused to pay for the procedure for women from Northern Ireland who travel to Britain.
Sturgeon said: “I was asked a question specifically in parliament about the scenario where a woman from Northern Ireland chooses to access an abortion in Scotland and whether they should be charged for that or not.
“Now I said that we would explore that, so we 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.
“My view is that if a woman is going to access an abortion then the important thing is that it is as safe as possible … I am not putting a timescale on it but I will report back to parliament in due course.”
The supreme court in London is considering a case from a Northern Irish teenager, who had to go to England for an abortion when she was 15-years-old, and is now challenging the NHS’s refusal to fund abortions for women from Northern Ireland.
Every year, around 2,000 women from Northern Ireland have to raise enough money to travel to private English clinics and hospitals to have the procedure due to Northern Ireland’s strict anti-abortion laws.
Patrick Harvie MSP, the leader of the Green party in the Scottish parliament, said it can cost between £400 and £2,000 (about $500 to $2500) for a woman from Northern Ireland to get an abortion at a private clinic in Britain.
Sturgeon was speaking at an event organized by IBEC, the Irish employers’ organization. At the event, she also said she would pressure London to retain an open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“It is absolutely essential to maintain an open border … It is important to emphasize the unique status of Ireland, the peace process and the Good Friday agreement, and keeping an open border. Out of all of the things that we no doubt find disagreements on in terms of Brexit – what does it mean and what paths the UK take – I would hope that something everybody in the UK and also in the European Union can agree on is that there has to be solutions found to avoid some of the implications of Brexit for the island of Ireland,” she said.