New Bill Seeks to Decriminalise Abortion up to 24 Weeks After Conception
Abortion has never been fully decriminalised in the UK and is only legal under certain circumstances. The newly passed bill will alter this.
On March 13, MPs voted to remove a Victorian-era abortion law that criminalised women’s attempts to terminate their pregnancy up to 24 weeks after conception without medical consent.
The new bill, introduced by Labour MP Diana Johnson, complements The 1967 Abortion Act, which allowed for abortion up to 24 weeks with the consent of two doctors. The bill allows women to terminate their pregnancy without medical consent up to this 24 week period, extending this period from the previous twelve weeks.
Johnson told the Guardian: “Women buying the pills on the internet to bring about a miscarriage are committing a criminal act which is punishable by life imprisonment. Parliament should consider whether that is appropriate.”
Johnson highlighted that it requires the consent of two doctors to proceed for a termination, in the interest of the woman’s health, before a period of 24 weeks. Later abortions are permitted only in exceptional cases, including foetal abnormality.
Johnson also told MPs that “This is the harshest criminal penalty of any country in Europe, underpinned by a Victorian criminal law passed before women had the right to vote, let alone sit in this place.”
Johnson’s bill was introduced under the ten-minute rule, which allows backbench MPs to submit bills in addition to those already scheduled. It passed, with 170 votes to 142.
While the bill does not affect Scotland directly, the issue of abortion has been brought before the Scottish Government.
Engender, Scotland’s largest feminist organisation, published a report including a number of recommendations and issues regarding the accessibility of abortion services in Scotland, titled: “Our bodies, our choice: The case for a Scottish approach to abortion”.
Engender’s appeal to the Scottish Government for an active approach regarding abortion decriminalisation is in collaboration with organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Zero Tolerance, Close the Gap, Amnesty Scotland, and NUS Scotland.
A number of images and quotes are available on their website, encouraging people to download and share to show support for the right to abortion.
The recent developments in the UK concerning access to abortion reflect wider European mobilisations around the issue.
In Poland, where abortion is legal but highly restricted, the Polish Government attempted to introduce a new abortion law, with a near total-ban. Following mass protests, MPs voted to reject the legislation by 352 votes to 58.
In addition, the BBC reports that the bill, which was derived from an anti-abortion citizens’ campaign, was backed by the Catholic Church initially but this was dropped after Bishops declared they could not support giving women jail time for having an abortion.
Poland’s failed law helped to trigger Ireland’s nationwide Demonstration for Repeal on the 8th of March 2017, which aimed to “demand a referendum on abortion, which is a criminal offence under the Irish constitution”.