'I had to travel to England at 16 for an abortion, this can't be the norm'

A young woman who had to travel to England for an abortion aged 16 has said experiences like hers “can’t be the norm” amid calls for the Scottish Government to ensure all abortion care can be provided up to the legal limit in Scotland.
A then 16-year-old girl has told of her traumatic experience after having to travel from Scotland to England to undergo an abortion (Photo: Getty Images).A then 16-year-old girl has told of her traumatic experience after having to travel from Scotland to England to undergo an abortion (Photo: Getty Images).
A then 16-year-old girl has told of her traumatic experience after having to travel from Scotland to England to undergo an abortion (Photo: Getty Images).

The woman who wishes to remain anonymous said she felt “deeply traumatised” and “very isolated” after travelling to London to have an abortion.

As she was 23 weeks pregnant at the time she found out, she was unable to access abortion care in Scotland where it is currently only available up to 20 weeks.

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The now 21-year-old said: “My family are deeply anti-abortion and I felt very isolated at the time. I had to ask my boyfriend’s mum to take me to London.

“My fear and shame only suffered having to go to another country to access the healthcare I desperately needed. I even thought of taking my own life during this time, to escape the whole situation.”

Once she arrived at the clinic in London, the young woman said she then had to then face anti-abortion protesters waiting outside.

“They handed me flyers and tried to stop me for a chat. I was angry that after travelling so far and making a difficult decision I was still faced with people trying to tell me what was right for me,” she said, “The only thing they achieved was giving me more shame and guilt to carry.”

Speaking about the need for later abortion care in Scotland, she said: “I am so thankful that I had the means to travel to London, but I should not have to be.

“I should have had access to the healthcare I am entitled to as a resident of Scotland. This can’t be the norm any longer if we want to truly provide access to abortion for all.”

At the SNP conference last weekend, Women's Health Minister Maree Todd was met with applause as she announced women can access abortion service up to 20 weeks in every health board service across Scotland. However, the legal limit for accessing abortion care stands at 24 weeks which is currently provided for in all other areas of the UK except from Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In June, the Scotland on Sunday revealed that since 2019, 170 Scottish women have been sent across the border into England to have an abortion.

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Praising Scotland’s provision of abortion care up to this time period is “a slap in the face”, according to campaign group Back Off Scotland which is urging the Scottish Government to ensure abortions can be provided up to 24 weeks.

Lucy Grieve from Back Off Scotland said: “Abortion in Scotland is legal until 24 weeks and it’s the responsibility of the Scottish Government to ensure that women can access these services. However, as it currently stands there is no health board in Scotland that provides abortion care up to this limit.

“In every part of Scotland, women are being sent to England to access the care they so desperately need and are legally entitled to.

“20 weeks falls very short of what is on offer in other parts of the UK - the situation here isn’t good enough, and Scotland’s women deserve better.”

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is urging the Scottish Government to ensure every mainland health board can provide medical abortions up to 24 weeks and ensure there is a centrally-commissioned surgical service available for all women up to 24 weeks.

Rachael Clarke from BPAS said: “There is absolutely no clinical or training reason why all mainland health boards cannot easily deliver up to 24 weeks – though for a surgical service there will need to be some investment in training and service provision.

"In the meantime, BPAS is working on improving our offer to women who have to travel from Scotland, including on ensuring information is more readily available to everyone who may need us, and on ensuring that everyone can access accommodation and travel funding – and we look forward to discussing that with government and the health boards in the coming months.”

In June during a meeting with the First Minister, Back Off Scotland called for the publication of an urgent national service specifications to align funding, referral pathways, and information to women required to travel for abortions. However, this has yet to materialise and the campaign group is still hearing from women who have recently had to self-refer and receive treatment in England.

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Ms Grieve said: “It’s vital we see commitment to the national commissioning of mid-trimester services up to the legal limit and the training of doctors and clinical teams to provide these services. This approach must be patient-centred and include surgical commissioning so that women can make informed choices about their own care.”

Speaking at her party’s conference, Ms Todd said: "Women in Scotland should not have to travel to England to access abortions that are legal here so we have begun that process of commissioning services for abortions up to 24 weeks and we have offered funding to health boards in Scotland to access specialist training to achieve this.”

Ms Todd said this work is at “an early stage”, however, she is “confident” it will be delivered.

John Mason, an anti-choice SNP MSP argued against the action as he said there is a “sizeable minority” in the party and society who oppose abortion.

Where an NHS Board cannot offer abortion services up to 24 weeks locally, the Scottish Government said they must work to provide an "appropriate and person-centred care pathway for all patients seeking abortions up to the legal limit”.

A spokesperson added: “We have been clear that their care should be paid for by NHS Scotland, and this includes cases where women may be required to receive an abortion out with Scotland.”

The Scottish Government is also supporting Gillian Mackay MSP with the development of her member’s bill which hopes to bring in legislation to create safe access zones for those accessing abortion services. It comes as anti-abortion protests continue to impact those seeking abortion care in Scotland.

Ms Todd said the Scottish Government will use the forthcoming Supreme Court judgement on buffer zone legislation in Northern Ireland to draft “robust law that continues to balance everyone’s rights.”

However, chief executive of anti-abortion group 40 Days for Life, Shawn Carney, previously told The Scotsman he would “absolutely challenge” any legislation trying to limit these protests.



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