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Sturgeon could offer Northern Ireland women free NHS abortions in Scotland

By Allan Preston

The Scottish government has repeated its intention to consider providing free abortions for Northern Ireland women on the NHS.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister, is reported to be discussing the matter with the country's Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood.

Last November, during First Minister's questions at Holyrood, she had previously confirmed she would be "happy to explore that" when asked if the NHS in Scotland should provide financial assistance to women from here seeking abortions.

Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland except for cases where the woman's physical or mental health is at serious risk.

The interest from Holyrood comes days after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal for women here to have abortions in England paid for by the NHS.

A case had been taken against the UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, after a girl who was aged 15 in 2012 travelled to Manchester for an abortion to be told she would face a bill of hundreds of pounds.

Figures from the Department of Health in England revealed last week that 724 women from Northern Ireland made the journey to England or Wales for abortions - nearly two a day.

The overall figure was down from the 2015 total of 833.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that some Northern Ireland women were already gaining free abortions in Scotland by naming the address of a Scottish friend as their home.

Medics are alleged to turn a blind eye to the fact the women are not living in Scotland.

The Scottish government is reported to be anxious that even consulting on the issue will disrupt this process and make access to abortions even more difficult.

A government spokesman told the Sunday Times: "We are supportive of all women having access to safe and legal abortions. We will carefully consider (last week's) Supreme Court Judgement and the implications it may have in Scotland."

The DUP previously lobbied the Scottish Government to stop same-sex civil partners.

Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Greens, also spoke out about the "malign" influence of the DUP on the UK government.

He added that Northern Ireland did not have "the kind of human rights we expect in the modern world".

He said: "If Scotland can do anything to lead the way for progress on equality and human rights on these islands then I would very much welcome it."

The DUP were contacted for a response on the story but have yet to respond.

Last November, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he was disappointed that Mrs Sturgeon was seeking to "interfere in what is a very sensitive issue here in Northern Ireland".

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