Opinion Former Article

Nicola Sturgeon promises Northern Irish women safe abortion access in Scotland

In response to a question from Patrick Harvie MSP at First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon has announced her support for Northern Irish women to access free, safe, and legal abortion services through the NHS in Scotland.

This comes just two weeks after a Supreme Court case was heard in London concerning whether women from Northern Ireland, where abortion is generally not allowed, should have to pay to access abortions on the NHS in England.

Campaigners including the British Humanist Association (BHA) have argued that this restriction is a violation of Northern Irish women’s rights, and places additional undue barriers on their access to legal sexual and reproductive services and with costs on average at £900, has a disproportionate effect on poorer women. The BHA were interveners at the hearing, as were Alliance for Choice, the Family Planning Association, Birthrights, and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

The First Minister said that she was ‘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.’

She added that ‘no woman should ever be stigmatised for having an abortion. No woman ever wants to have an abortion; there will be a variety of circumstances in which a woman finds herself in that position, and I absolutely agree that safe abortion is of paramount importance.’

Boyd Sleator of Northern Ireland Humanists commented, ‘Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement today isn’t just about recognising the human rights of women in Northern Ireland.  Access to these services in Scotland would also help to relieve the pressure experienced by so many women in Northern Ireland when faced with a desperate situation and nowhere to turn for safe and legal healthcare.

Pavan Dhaliwal, Director of the Public Affairs for the BHA said, ‘This is extremely positive news, and we hope to hear that Supreme Court will find along similar lines for the right of Northern Irish women to access these services on the same basis as their counterparts in the rest of the UK.

‘Our government’s stance in refusing women from Northern Ireland a safe and legal abortion on the NHS is shameful and we believe it is a breach of human rights laws. The Supreme Court judges have an opportunity to rectify a situation which currently causes undue distress to hundreds of women and leads many more with no choice but to buy illegal abortion pills online. Today’s news is very encouraging, and we hope to see access opened up in England as well.’

Notes for editors

For more information, please contact Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanism.org.uk or 07738 435 059.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on abortion:https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/ 

See BHA news item on ‘Legal appeal to overturn restrictions on Northern Irish access to NHS abortions’ here: https://humanism.org.uk/2016/10/31/legal-appeal-to-overturn-restrictions-on-northern-irish-access-to-nhs-abortions/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethically and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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