“We welcome the Labour Party’s manifesto commitment to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales. Over the last week, the manifesto released by the Liberal Democrats has also included a pledge to decriminalise abortion and legislate for buffer zones around abortion clinics, and the Green Party has pledged to ensure access to legal, safe and affordable abortion services. For many years, BPAS has been campaigning alongside a coalition of medical bodies and women’s charities for the decriminalisation of abortion, to protect women from the threat of prosecution and allow the development of a truly patient-centred service. We live in a pro-choice country, and it is right that this is finally reflected within party manifestos.
“Under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, having or providing an abortion in England and Wales remains a crime that carries a life sentence. Women accessing abortion do so under the Abortion Act 1967, but this law did not decriminalise abortion, it simply made it legal in certain, fixed circumstances. The law means that abortions must be signed off by two doctors, they must take place in a hospital or specific clinics, and women must meet one of the seven criteria that allows abortion. Any woman or clinician who ends a pregnancy outside of the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act can be prosecuted and criminalised.
“This law is the reason that women cannot access abortion pills at their GP; that if they’re in an abusive relationship, they need to find a reason to travel to a specialist clinic often quite a distance from their home; why we cannot develop nurse or midwife led services, as is already the case in Sweden, Norway, and France. It’s a law that’s decades – centuries – out of date, and it needs to change.
“We know that MPs from across the House of Commons are supportive of decriminalisation: two previous attempts to decriminalise abortion have gained overwhelming support from MPs from all major political parties in England, Wales and Scotland, in 2017 and 2019 respectively. Public opinion, too, has swelled, with a recent poll revealing just 14% of the public support the current criminal sanctions for abortion. Healthcare bodies including the British Medical Association, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive healthcare and the Royal Colleges of Midwives, Nursing, GPs and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists all support decriminalisation.
“The current criminalisation of abortion in Britain fails women. No woman should be threatened with prosecution for ending her own pregnancy, and yet today in the 21st century any woman who does so without the permission of two doctors can go to prison for life. Our archaic legal framework creates unnecessary barriers to care too, meaning some vulnerable women are prevented from accessing the treatment they need - leaving them no option but to continue an unwanted pregnancy that risks their health.
“It is clear the current law is no longer fit for purpose. We look forward to working with MPs from across the house in the next parliament to change it for the better.”
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bpas is a charity which sees more than 80,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, which seeks to develop and deliver a research agenda that furthers women’s access to evidence-based reproductive healthcare, driven by an understanding of women’s perspectives and needs. You can find out more here: https://www.bpas.org/get-involved/centre-for-reproductive-research-communication/