Decriminalising Abortion


MPs have voted for a bill that would fully decriminalise abortion, which is at the moment still regulated by the 1861 Abortion Act and the 1967 revision. The 1861 Abortion Act criminalises abortion and prescribes up to life-long penal servitude for women who undergo procedures to terminate their pregnancy and up to three years for the people helping them. In 1967, a provision to the 1861 Abortion Act was passed, which allows for abortion up to 28 weeks into the pregnancy (changed to 24 weeks in 1990) with the consent of two doctors.  

“Women will take the [second dose of] pills and try to rush home before the miscarriage begins. If the woman has got a long journey, it is horrible for her,” explains Law Professor Sally Sheldon from Kent University, who coordinated a letter of support for the bill.

The new bill proposed by the MP Diana Johnson would repeal the 1861 Abortion Act, and consequently its 1967 amendment, thus fully removing abortion from the list of criminal offences. The bill has support from both the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Royal College of Midwives.

This bill, if passed, would introduce the following changes: women, who now have to have approval of two doctors, would be able to decide by themselves to go through with the abortion. Women could also take the pills at home, instead of being obligated by law to take the abortion medication in a hospital and in front of doctors, only to then try and rush home before the medication takes effect. There would be no legal time limit however abortion pills only work in earlier stages of pregnancy. If a woman wants a late abortion, she would have to consult a doctor, and it would be regulated.

Critics such as Conservative MP Maria Caulfield have argued that decriminalisation could result in late abortion and even include the factor of gender-selectiveness in the decision. She also suggests that it would allow abusive partners to coerce women into having terminations.

“The Bill does not seek to de-regulate abortion or change time limits. The provisions in The Abortion Act 1967 can continue but would be the responsibility of the professional bodies overseeing the medical profession rather than the Police and CPS.” said MP Diana Johnson for Christian Today.

[Žad Novak]

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