If, as expected, an announcement is made in the next few days on the devolution of abortion law to Scotland, it will be the end of a very curious process. The SNP were enthusiastic about the change but now appear to be lukewarm. Labour were relaxed about it but are now opposed to it. And there has been some serious opposition from women's groups and charities. So why is the change happening?
The answer is partly because the SNP is, in its own words, in the business of more powers and, even though it recognises that abortion is a spikey and difficult issue and in many ways the party would prefer to concentrate on other matters, it is not going to say no to more devolution. However, the abortion move is also happening because the UK Government recognises a certain logic to the move: health, including the end of life, is a devolved matter so in some ways it makes sense that abortion should be too.
However, this newspaper shares the concerns of women's groups and charities such as Amnesty International over the potential consequences of devolving abortion. In a statement to MPs, Amnesty and other organisations, including Scottish Women's Aid, suggested that the move could lead to different laws north of the Border, which, in turn, could lead to a discriminatory impact on women and girls in Scotland, or other parts of the UK, and possibly a cross-border trade in terminations.
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Such concerns might seem far-fetched when the Scottish Government says it has no plans to change the 24-week time-limit for abortion. But who can predict the colour and shape of future Scottish governments? Whatever the Scottish Government may say now (and its reassurance is welcome), it cannot tie the hands of any future First Minister who may take a different view. And it certainly cannot tie the hands of a Prime Minister, who may change the law in the rest of the UK.
We also already have a precedent in the UK that demonstrates the consequences of different abortion laws across borders. In 1967, abortion was legalised in the UK, but it did not apply to Northern Ireland and there remains strong opposition in the Assembly to any liberalisation. What this means is that every year, thousands of women travel from Northern Ireland to hospitals elsewhere in the UK to have terminations – the same could happen between England and Scotland if there was any difference in the laws.
Perhaps such a difference will never happen, but the potential for it to do so should give both the UK and Scottish governments pause. There is a theoretical logic to devolving abortion to a parliament that already controls health matters, but when there are appears to be lukewarm interest at best from the SNP and downright opposition from Labour and women's groups, should it really be a priority?
In the end, the Smith Agreement said that "further serious consideration should be given to its devolution and a process should be established immediately to consider the matter further".