Clare Murphy, bpas Director of External Affairs, said:
"We are delighted to see this bill to decriminalise consensual abortion up to 24 weeks across England, Wales and Northern Ireland pass its first parliamentary hurdle. The UK is currently host to one of the harshest criminal regimes for abortion in the world, threatening life in prison for any woman who ends her own pregnancy without legal authorisation, and it is absolutely right that MPs have voted in favour of ending these cruel sanctions which have no place in the 21st Century. Abortion is a healthcare matter, not a criminal one.
"The 1967 Abortion Act, while pioneering for its time, did not decriminalise abortion, nor remove the threat of life in prison, it simply made it lawful when two doctors agreed a woman met certain criteria, and of course it never extended to Northern Ireland. Women here are left with no choice but to travel to England for care or take their chances ordering abortion pills online, risking life in prison in the process. The UK Government has been urged repeatedly by UN bodies to decriminalise abortion by the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act to ensure no woman or healthcare professional faces criminal sanction, which is exactly what this bill seeks to do. Decriminalisation does not mean deregulation, it means abortion can be subject to the same stringent and comprehensive healthcare laws that govern all other women’s healthcare procedures, with appropriate safeguarding protocols, counselling, clinical safety standards and the need for informed consent. This bill also provides new protections for pregnant women against violent partners who assault them to cause a miscarriage and ensures non-consensual abortion remains a criminal offence. The bill has been supported by numerous women’s health and advocacy organisations.
"The Supreme Court has found that abortion law in Northern is in breach of Article 8 – right to a private and family life – of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the absence of a government in Northern Ireland, bpas supports an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Function) Bill to enable the Secretary of State to produce guidance for civil servants related to the enforcement and operation of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act in Northern Ireland, and to report to parliament on a quarterly basis on this guidance and on the Government’s plans to address our human rights obligations in Northern Ireland. This amendment would not change the law but it would represent a further step towards ensuring the human rights of the women of Northern Ireland are recognised."