Abortion in Scotland

Discussions around abortion are highly prevalent in Scottish politics right now, even more so since the resignation of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The three SNP leadership candidates have varying views on abortion and on buffer zone legislation. One of these candidates, the Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, has previously expressed pro-life views – in 2018, she made a pro-life speech at a prayer breakfast, and she is also a member of the Free Church of Scotland, a pro-life organisation, though Forbes has stated that she does not agree or align herself with all of the church’s views.

The possibility of even a mildly anti-abortion politician becoming First Minister of Scotland is a greatly concerning one. The state of abortion access in Scotland is already in a dire state. Anti-abortion protests are currently taking place at hospitals and sexual health clinics and will continue until April 2. These protests are traumatising and isolating for the women who are simply trying to access a legal form of healthcare. Protesters show women images of foetuses, accuse them of murder, and, in some cases, have thrown eggs at those trying to enter the centres. It is crucial that buffer zone legislation is introduced to protect people from such harassment.

Last year, The Student revealed that a “crisis pregnancy centre” had opened just over 300 metres from Chalmers Health Centre, outside of where a potential buffer zone would sit. These centres prey on vulnerable women, are known to act as a barrier to legitimate abortion care, and perpetuate harmful ideology. This centre is run by Stanton Healthcare (East of Scotland), which in 2021 was granted charitable status by Scotland’s charity regulator, which I find concerning.

These are just two things which are making abortion less accessible for women in Scotland. In the UK, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks, though if the life of the mother is at risk or the child may be born with a serious disability, this can be extended. Despite this being in law, some NHS boards in Scotland will not carry out the procedure past 15 weeks. NHS Fife, for example, has a limit of 15 weeks and five days. Other boards have limits of 18 weeks and 20 weeks. No health boards in Scotland offer abortions up to the legal limit of 24 weeks.

As there are so many remote areas in Scotland, some women are denied access to abortion based purely on where they live and may be forced either to travel as far as 700 miles to access abortions in England or, in some extreme cases, carry the pregnancy to term.

From 2010 to 2020, over 2000 Scottish women, including children under 16, had to travel across the border to England or Wales for abortions. This huge gap in provisions means there are women being deprived of a fundamental right and legal healthcare.

A 2014 study by the Scottish government demonstrated how the lack of abortions later in pregnancy has a detrimental financial and emotional effect on women. Similarly, having to travel across the border, and in some cases as far south as London or Bournemouth, contributes both to exacerbating an already potentially very difficult experience and to stigmatising abortion.

It is unacceptable that in 2023 there are women and children under the age of 16 who have to travel to another country for abortion care. It is unacceptable that when trying to access abortions, women are sometimes faced with abuse, aggression and harassment. 1 in 3 women in the UK will have an abortion before their 45th birthday. Abortion is healthcare and is a legal right, and there should be no barriers in accessing it.

Image: ‘Abortion on Demand & Without Apology’ Protesters.” by Steenaire is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

By Ione Gildroy

Deputy Editor-in-Chief
Former News Editor