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SNP's Sturgeon told to butt out after abortion row 'invite' to Northern Ireland women

By Ann W Schmidt

Published 18/11/2016

Nicola Sturgeon has been criticised by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Nicola Sturgeon has been criticised by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Jeffrey Donaldson

Nicola Sturgeon has been told to stop interfering in politics in Northern Ireland after she suggested women from here could access NHS abortions in Scotland.

The Scottish First Minister has said she will look into women from Northern Ireland accessing NHS abortions in Scotland without facing prohibitive costs.

Abortions are illegal in Northern Ireland except for cases where the woman's health is at risk.

Last year more than 830 women travelled to England and Wales for a termination.

Northern Ireland women are not legally entitled to free NHS abortions in England following a High Court ruling in 2014, which is being challenged at the UK Supreme Court.

During First Minister's Questions at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon was asked by Green MSP Patrick Harvie: "Does the First Minister agree that the NHS in Scotland should be exploring what can be done to ensure that these women are able to access abortion in Scotland, if that's where they chose to travel to, without facing these kind of unacceptable financial barriers?"

Ms Sturgeon replied: "I am happy to explore that with the NHS. To explore both what the situation would be right now in terms of accessing safe and legal abortion for women from Northern Ireland within NHS Scotland and whether there's any improvements that are able to be made.

"I believe, like Patrick Harvie, that women should have the right to choose within the limits that we currently set down in law and I believe that right should be defended."

However, her statement has caused anger among some in Northern Ireland.

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

"The Northern Ireland Executive would never consider interfering in Scottish internal affairs," the Lagan Valley MP told the Belfast Telegraph.

"And I really do think the Scottish First Minister should concentrate on sorting out the economic problems in Scotland and leave Northern Ireland to sort out its own issues."

Bernie Smyth, director of pro-life group Precious Life, described Mrs Sturgeon comments as outrageous.

"She needs to butt her nose out of Northern Irish politics," she said.

"At this point in time we are discussing this here at Stormont through our own politicians who we have elected. We have not elected a Scottish politician to represent the views of the women and specifically our unborn children. So I would say to Nicola - mind your own business and set something up that is genuinely caring for the mother and the child."

Christian lobby group the Evangelical Alliance noted that the Scottish First Minister had not guaranteed anything in her statement.

Spokeswoman Dawn McAvoy said: "Whilst Nicola Sturgeon is entitled to her view, we don't want to see abortion on demand - which is effectively the situation in Scotland - brought to Northern Ireland.

"Scotland's First Minister was notably cautious in her comments offering no firm commitments.

"The law in Northern Ireland strikes a fine balance and we are campaigning to ensure that both the woman and the unborn baby are given the best possible care here in Northern Ireland," she added.

However, Amnesty International's Patrick Corrigan described Mrs Sturgeon's offer as an "indictment of the failure" at Stormont.

"Given the utter human rights failure of Northern Ireland's ministers to provide free, safe and legal abortion healthcare for women and girls here, we welcome the commitment of Scotland's First Minister to explore what can be done via NHS Scotland," he said.

"The UN Human Rights Committee recently ruled that Northern Ireland's laws prohibiting and criminalising abortion constitute a human rights violation. The Scottish Government could help lessen the harsh financial impact of that violation by allowing women from Northern Ireland to access abortions free of charge on the NHS."

SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said she would adopt a "wait and see" attitude towards the announcement, although the party remained opposed to relaxing the law in Northern Ireland.

"We are also awaiting the outcome of a review into the guidelines governing abortion in Northern Ireland," the South Down MP added.

"We have to await the outcome of what the First Minister of Scotland said, what the extent of her explorations is, and the outcome of the current review of guidelines."

Belfast Telegraph

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