Scotland to fund free NHS abortions for Northern Irish women
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Scotland to fund free NHS abortions for Northern Irish women

WOMEN from Northern Ireland will be able to access free abortions on the NHS in Scotland as well as England and Wales, it has been announced.

The Scottish Government confirmed the policy and said "details will be set out shortly how that can be achieved".

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland unless the mother’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health.

These ‘exceptional circumstances’ do not include matters of rape or incest.

Hundreds of women cross the Irish Sea each year to have terminations in Britain – before being presented with a bill by the NHS.

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Northern Irish women seeking an abortion could still travel to Britain to have an abortion carried out privately, but costs often run up into four figures.

Last week, the British Government backed funding for women from Northern Ireland in England only.

The news comes less than a month after the UK Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a mother and daughter, who was 15 when she travelled from Northern Ireland to Manchester for a termination, for which she was reportedly charged around £900.

New powers over abortion were devolved to Scotland as part of the 2016 Scotland Act.

At the time, Nicola Sturgeon said she would explore options involving giving Northern Irish women access to NHS abortions in Scotland without cost.

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In a statement, the Scottish Government said they believe “a woman from Northern Ireland, in Scotland, should be able to access an abortion for free on the same basis as women in Scotland and we will set out shortly how that can be achieved.

“The Scottish Government's view is that abortion should be part of standard healthcare for all women, and available free from stigma,” they said.

The plight of Northern Irish women was originally raised by the Scottish Greens at First Minister's Questions in 2016.

Responding to the news, Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: "I'm pleased the Scottish Government agrees with Greens that the stress and costs that women in Northern Ireland face are unacceptable.

"Scotland has a chance to provide much-needed support. This is about trusting women to decide what is best for them.

"I look forward to the public health minister replying to me with details of how Scotland will provide free access to abortion for women from Northern Ireland, and I will continue to urge Scottish ministers to consult on decriminalising abortion."