Scottish Government should stand firm on free abortion row

By Fraser Sutherland, HSS Campaigns and Communications Manager

Earlier this week Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, was reportedly in discussion with the country’s Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, about allowing Northern Irish women the right to access to free abortion in Scotland.

photo of Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon, proposed free abortion for Northern Irish woman in Scotland

This follows an announcement made last year in Dublin when the First Minister stated she would explore the legal implications of Norther Irish women using Scottish NHS facilities for abortion.

Sturgeon’s latest move follows a decision by the Supreme Court last week to block attempts to allow free abortions for Northern Irish women in the rest of the UK in a move described by Amnesty International as ‘a further blow to women’ from Northern Ireland.

However the proposal has been met with a furious backlash by some in the anti-abortion lobby. John Kenney, Bishop of Paisley in the Catholic church, said it would be “disrespectful” and “if the Irish choose to respect life who are we to say we know better!”

The Scottish Government is also likely to also face pressure from the Democratic Unionist Party who have a strong anti-abortion stance and may attempt to play the moves as an attempt to undermine devolution.

Arlene Foster, wrote to Scottish Government to block moves on same-sex marriage

This is not the first time that the DUP have sought to reach out to the Scottish Government in an attempt to block more liberal policy making across the North Channel. It was revealed this week that Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, wrote in 2015, when she was Finance Minister of the Stormont Executive to then Scottish Government minister Marco Biagi, in an attempt to stop aspects of same-sex marriage laws applying to Northern Irish residents.

She argued in correspondence that the Scottish Government should not allow the conversion of Northern Irish civil partnerships to marriages after the legalisation of same-sex marriage by the Scottish Parliament.

Despite Foster originally denying any knowledge of the attempts to block rights of same-sex couples, her full correspondence has now been released in the public domain. While it might mean some embarrassment for the former Stormont First Minister, what it also shows is how the Scottish Government were willing to rebuff such pressure from another devolved government.

On the back of this revealing correspondence over same-sex marriage the Scottish Government are now surely more empowered to follow through with their plans to allow free abortions for Northern Irish women in Scotland. 

Humanist Society Scotland have written to the First Minister to support the move to offer free abortions for Northern Irish women in Scotland and encouraging the Scottish Government to reject any pressure to block this move.

Humanists have long been part of the pro-choice movement and campaigned hard to protect women’s rights. As Humanists we believe that individuals should have the right to autonomy over their own bodies, and in the case of abortion law this means a personal choice of the woman concerned.

Last month I met some fantastic HSS members who retold tales of how hard they fought in the 1960’s to have abortion legalised, against a tide of some very personal and degrading attacks on their personal character and even in some cases violence.

To many younger people in Scotland it sometimes feels as if abortion, as with other fundamental human rights, has always been available, accepted by the majority of the population and safely and professionally regulated.

We can easily forget how hard won some fundamental rights were and that just a short ferry ride to another part of the UK people don’t have access to those same rights.

**UPDATE – July 2017 Humanist Society Scotland received correspondence from the Scottish Government confirming they will proceed with plans to allow abortion for women from Northern Ireland in Scotland (letter below)**

Humanist Society Scotland has over 15,000 members working for for a fairer, more rational and ethical future. As a registered charity that receives no public funding our work is only possible through our kind members donations and volunteering. To help us in this work please consider joining or donating today.

Letter from Scottish Government on Abortion for Northern Irish women in Scotland

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