Since Monday, women from Northern Ireland are being offered free access to abortion services by the National Health Service in Scotland.
The Scottish public health minister Aileen Campbell told the BBC she is proud the government extended “clinically safe services” for women from N. Ireland.
This follows the extension of abortion services to women from N. Ireland in England in June. The Minister for Equality Justine Greening has also pledged financial support for traveling to England.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where abortions are illegal. Abortion is only allowed in N. Ireland if the woman’s life is at risk or the pregnancy poses serious risks to her mental health.
The law is comparable to the one in force in the Republic of Ireland, where incest, rape, and foetal abnormalities are not considered legitimate reasons for an abortion
Traditionally, Irish women that want or need a termination of pregnancy travel to England, if they can afford it. Seeking abortion in other parts of the UK is legal, but was not free until this year. A Labour party motion to provide free access to abortion was backed by members of the Conservatives and the Liberals.
Anti-abortion campaigners in Scotland, England, and Ireland have vehemently opposed the decision of the Scottish government last year.
Meanwhile, the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has committed to a referendum in spring 2018 for a constitutional amendment that could legalize abortion in the Republic of Ireland. Ireland has a blanket ban on abortion embedded in the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, dating back to 1983. Since 2013, abortion in Ireland may be allowed if a doctor can make the case that the mother’s life is in danger.
Women found to have illegal abortions in the Republic of Ireland face 14 years in prison. The vote will is likely to cause polarization, especially as it will take place weeks before a planned visit Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families event (21-26 August 2018).