Northern Irish women will be entitled to have free abortions in Scotland after MSPs on Holyrood’s Health Committee backed a change in the law.
A Scottish Statutory Instrument enabling women from Northern Ireland to be offered free and safe terminations in Scotland was passed by MSPs after hearing there would not be a detrimental impact on Scottish patients.
The Scottish Government estimates that between 20 and 150 women will travel to Scotland each year from Northern Ireland to access abortion services, at a cost of between £17,000 and £98,000.
Northern Ireland has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Abortion is still illegal in Ulster, except in very limited cases.
The Democratic Unionist Party has consistently refused to liberalise its anti-abortion stance.
Appearing at the committee, public health minister Aileen Campbell said the cost of policy would be funded by Barnett consequentials arising from introducing a similar change in the law in England.
“In terms of capacity, we’re confident that Scottish abortion services will be able to treat women from Northern Ireland without having a detrimental impact on the service to women in Scotland and, of course, that will require continual monitoring, and that’s something we will endeavour to do,” Ms Campbell said..
“This instrument is required to empower NHS boards to provide free abortion services in Scotland to women who normally live in Northern Ireland. In developing this instrument we have consulted with a wide range of stake holders including third sector organisations and NHS experts. In Northern Ireland abortion is permitted only in very limited circumstances and therefore hundreds of women travel to England and Scotland each year to access services here.
“This creates an inequality that is significantly addressed if these women do not have to pay for treatment. It is important that Scotland, alongside similar provision being made by the UK Government enables the women who travel here from Northern Ireland to receive clinically safe NHS treatment without being charged. I recognise that abortion can be an emotive subject and there are a range of views held in Scotland, and indeed in this room about it. In a similar manner to the UK the Government we believe abortion should be available as part of a standard health care service for all women. Women in Northern Ireland who need abortion services face considerable challenges in accessing them. It is right that Scotland plays its part in providing clinically safe and legal care for women who have made this decision.”
Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour had intended to recommend that the instrument should be annulled but he withdrew his objection to the legislation.