Parliament considers decriminalising abortion in England and Wales

Labour's Diana Johnson is calling for Victorian abortion law to be scrapped


A motion to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales will be presented to parliament today, although it’s likely to get overwhelmed by the Article 50 debate that follows.

Proposed by Diana Johnson MP, the ten-minute-rule bill aims to scrap Victorian laws that still criminalise the procurement of abortion.

While the 1967 Abortion Act legalised terminations in certain contexts, anyone who procures or assists with an abortion that falls outside the specifications of the law are technically subject to prosecution. They can then be sentenced to a maximum of life imprisonment — the harshest penalty for abortion in Europe.

Johnson rejects the claim that changing the law would increase late-term abortions, or the number of terminations overall. She commented:

“Decriminalisation will not mean deregulation. Abortion will still be subject to a significant body of Parliamentary regulation and robust professional standards. The Bill does not intend to make it easier to access abortion after 24 weeks. Removing the counter-productive threat of criminal punishment against vulnerable women will help create an environment more conducive to reducing incidents of unplanned pregnancies and abortions – not least medically unsafe ones.”
She has called for a reasoned discussion of abortion provision and regulation, writing that ‘we need to repeal our 150-year-old laws criminalising abortion and focus on the evidence of what works in the modern context.’
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has welcomed the motion. It’s chief executive, Anna Furedi, commented:

‎”Our current laws call for life in prison for any woman who ends a pregnancy without the permission of doctors. This is offensive and absurd. If we do not think we should lock up a woman desperate enough to buy abortion pills online because she cannot access lawful services, we should no longer accept a law which says we should.

“Decriminalising abortion – and removing needless legal restrictions – may make it easier for those women to access regulated services in the first place. Ultimately we must trust that the person who is best placed to make a decision about a pregnancy is the person who must bear the consequences of it. In 2017, we should be trusting women to make that choice.”

UPDATE: Diana Johnson’s bill passed by 172 votes to 142. The second reading will be held on 24 March.

See: Daily Mail prepares for International Women’s Day with an attack on abortion providers

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