Women from Northern Ireland can now access abortions free of charge through NHS Scotland, a move described as “a complete betrayal” by anti-abortion campaigners here.
The move has been welcomed, however, by the Abortion Support Network, an organisation that offers financial assistance and accommodation to women travelling from Northern Ireland for an abortion.
Regulations laid in the Scottish Parliament last month to allow the provision of the service to women from Northern Ireland came into force yesterday.
Work is also ongoing to assess what support can be given to address barriers preventing some Northern Irish women from accessing the services.
Scotland’s Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “Abortion can be an emotive subject, however I am proud this government is working hard to ensure women are always able to access clinically safe services.”
She added: “That’s why we have taken action to ensure that women from Northern Ireland can freely access abortion services through NHS Scotland.”
Bernie Smyth, speaking on behalf of campaign group Precious Life, described the move by the Scottish government as “an absolute disgrace”.
She said: “This complete betrayal, demoralisation and undermining of our democratic process in Northern Ireland is an absolute disgrace.
“It is the deliberate destruction of an innocent human being, an unborn child. Scotland should be ashamed of themselves. Abortion is a devolved issue and should stay that way.
“Millions of taxpayers’ money is now going to be spent, in Scotland, on the killing of Irish, unborn babies while there are hundreds of thousands of people on waiting lists for life-saving operations.”
However, Mara Clarke from the Abortion Support Network, said that the move by Scotland was a welcome one, but only a “sticking plaster” in the absence of “free, safe and legal abortions in Northern Ireland”.
She said: “Any place that women from Northern Ireland can travel for an abortion is fantastic, but just like our organisation is a sticking plaster, and free abortions being available is a sticking plaster, free abortions available in Scotland is another sticking plaster.”
She added: “It is an undue burden to force people from Northern Ireland to travel and, in fact, a lot of people are unable to travel. It would be preferable if people weren’t forced to travel at all.”