Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has officially offered to give free abortions to Northern Irish women. In Northern Ireland, abortion is criminalized, with a maximum penalty of life in prison. It’s only legal in the country if there is a threat to the mother’s life.
During a visit to Dublin this week, Sturgeon promised that her government would talk to the Scottish National Health Service (NHS) to let women from Northern Ireland come to the country for free abortions.
Two weeks prior, Sturgeon was asked about the issue, and has since instructed ministers to investigate the possibilities.
“I was asked a question specifically in parliament about the scenario where a woman from Northern Ireland chooses to access an abortion in Scotland and whether they should be charged for that or not,” said Sturgeon in a statement. “Now I said that we would explore that, so we are looking in terms of the process and will discuss with the NHS what would happen now routinely.”
Northern Irish women can’t just nip across the border to the Republic of Ireland, either–the situation is just as dire there. This means paying to travel overseas to the mainland U.K., and then paying a private doctor to carry out the procedure. According to the Guardian, this can cost anywhere between $500 and $2,350.
In June, an activist group flew a drone carrying abortion pills across Ireland’s north/south border to protest women’s rights. Several women swallowed the pills upon landing, although they weren’t pregnant at the time. If they had been, they could have spent the rest of their lives in jail.
In this light, Sturgeon’s offer is likely to be an embarrassment for Northern Ireland. It’s great to see a politician in such a powerful position taking a moral stance based on what’s right, rather than on what is politically expedient. And although she is not willing to commit to a timescale, Sturgeon seems intent to letting women have control of their own bodies, instead of having a government decide what it thinks is good for them.
“My view is that if a woman is going to access an abortion then the important thing is that it is as safe as possible,” says Sturgeon.