THE Scottish Government is failing to provide late abortions on the NHS with vulnerable women forced to travel to England for terminations, trade union leaders will claim this week.
Women’s rights activist within the trade union movement will also call for a change in abortion law to make it easier for women to have the procedure.
A motion to be debated at the STUC Women’s Conference in Dundee this week will call for abortion legislation to be “urgently” updated to give women the right to have a termination with the consent of just one doctor.
Current legislation requires that two doctors must give consent for a woman to have an abortion.
Power over abortion is to be devolved to Holyrood, but under current legislation it is legal for a woman when she is up to 24 weeks pregnant.
The motion will also express concern about the lack of availability of abortions after 18 weeks, a situation identified in research carried out by Glasgow University.
The study, Access To And Experience Of Later Abortion: Accounts From Women In Scotland, found that there are barriers to access to late terminations in Scotland.
Conducted by Carrie Purcell, the research found that around 120 Scottish women per year have late abortions, a procedure that typically involves a journey to England and a round trip of between 800 and 1,400 miles – usually funded by a Scottish NHS board.
According to the Purcell study: “Women perceived that the resources required to travel to England for a later abortion were potential barriers to access, and felt that such travel was distressing and stigmatising.”
Although the 24-week limit applies north of the Border, the convention in Scotland has been that late abortions are not usually granted.
A different surgical procedure is needed for terminations over 18 weeks and it is only made available in extreme cases of foetal abnormality and risk to the life of the mother.
However, pro-choice groups say there can also be an argument for a later termination if there is delayed recognition of pregnancy or a change in the woman’s circumstances.
The motion has been tabled by the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU).
Yesterday Denise Christie of the Fire Brigades Union said: “We have a great deal of concern for women seeking late terminations in Scotland and the barriers they face due to the lack of services. It’s totally unacceptable that women are having to travel to England for this service and ask the Scottish Government to make a commitment to reverse this practice.”
A statement from the CWU claimed women were being discriminated against because of the requirement for two doctors to authorise a termination.
The CWU said: “It’s almost 50 years since the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act, yet vulnerable women are still being discriminated against and disadvantaged when making the difficult decision to seek termination.
“It’s time this outdated law where the consent of two doctors is needed in order to proceed is changed to bring it in line with all other medical procedures.”
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s conference, Ann Henderson, the STUC’s assistant secretary, said: “Respecting women’s decisions about when, or if, to have a child is at the heart of the STUC’s commitment to ensuring abortion services remain free on the NHS, accessible, and safe.”
The devolution of abortion law has propelled the issue to the front of the political agenda. The trade unions’ approach will clash with the pro-life lobby, who want the law tightened to make it more difficult for women to receive abortions.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government has no plans to change the law on abortion. The provision of abortion services in NHS Scotland is already devolved.
“Abortion is provided to all women in Scotland who require it within the legal limits.”