Amnesty welcomes Scottish First Minister’s intervention to help Northern Ireland abortion ban women

Amnesty International has welcomed a commitment from Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to explore the possibility that Northern Irish women could access abortions free of charge through NHS Scotland in light of the near-ban on abortion in Northern Ireland.

Ms Sturgeon was responding to a question from Patrick Harvie MSP during First Minister’s question time today (Thursday) in the Scottish Parliament. The exchange is reprinted below, as per the official record of the Scottish Parliament.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, welcomed Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment:

“Responsibility for delivering healthcare to women and girls in Northern Ireland sits squarely with the Northern Ireland Executive.

“But, given the utter human rights failure of Northern Ireland’s Ministers to provide free, safe and legal abortion healthcare for women and girls here, we welcome the commitment of Scotland’s First Minister to explore what can be done via NHS Scotland.

“The UN Human Rights Committee recently ruled that Northern Ireland’s laws prohibiting and criminalising abortion constitute a human rights violation. The Scottish Government could help lessen the harsh financial impact of that violation by allowing women from Northern Ireland to access abortions free of charge on the NHS.

“While this would be a welcome and helpful step, it is no substitute for the Northern Ireland Executive putting its own house in order with respect to significant reform of our scandalous abortion laws.

“The fact that Scotland’s First Minister is now exploring what she can do to help women and girls from Northern Ireland is an indictment of the failure of Northern Ireland own’s First Minister, Executive colleagues and the Assembly.”

Official record (draft) of the Scottish Parliament of Thursday 17 November:

Patrick Harvie: Around the world, the vast majority of developed countries and health organisations recognise that access to safe, legal abortion is critically important to the health of a great many women and that, when that is not available, women’s lives and health suffer. However, tragically, there are women in the United Kingdom who do not have access to that important right. Many women in Northern Ireland find themselves with no option but to travel elsewhere in the UK to access legal and safe abortion. The time that that takes and the stress that it causes are bad enough, but there are also often significant financial barriers. Some organisations who support those women estimate that, at the low end, the process costs about £400 and, in many other cases, it costs more than £2,000. Does the First Minister agree that the national health service in Scotland should be exploring what can be done to ensure that those women are able to access abortion in Scotland, if that is where they choose to travel to, without facing that kind of unacceptable financial barrier?

The First Minister: 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. That is my view. Patrick Harvie asked me to explore a particular issue for NHS Scotland and I am happy to do so.

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