Cross-party coalition of MPs table amendment to Health and Care Bill to decriminalise abortion
- A cross-party group of MPs, led by the Conservative MP Maria Miller and the Labour MP Diana Johnson, have tabled amendment NC50 to the Health and Care Bill to decriminalise abortion.
- In England and Wales, under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, it is a crime for a woman to end her own pregnancy outside without the approval of two doctors. The crime carries a maximum life sentence, the harshest in the world.
- Charities report that vulnerable women who cannot seek in-person clinic care, and therefore turn to online medication, are most at risk from criminalisation. This includes women experiencing domestic violence and those caring for disabled relatives.
- In 2019, MPs in Westminster approved legislation that removed the threat of criminal sanction for women ending or attempting to end their own pregnancy in Northern Ireland, and this amendment seeks to do the same for women in England and Wales up to 24 weeks gestation.
- The reproductive healthcare charity, BPAS, says that “no woman should face imprisonment for inducing their own miscarriage” and called for MPs to rally behind the amendment.
A cross-party group of MPs from five different political parties are supporting an amendment to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. The amendment (NC50) to the Health and Care Bill, which is expected to be debated in parliament today, was tabled by the Conservative MP Maria Miller and the Labour MP Diana Johnson. It seeks to amend sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This would protect women from criminalisation for ending or attempting to end their own pregnancy up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Charities have warned that it is the most vulnerable women who are most at risk of criminal sanction under the current law. For some women, the barriers to attending a clinic for abortion care are insurmountable. This includes victims of domestic violence who cannot leave the house without their abuser discovering that they are pregnant, women with severe pregnancy sickness, and those caring for disabled relatives. These women can risk up to life imprisonment by using abortion pills purchased online to end their pregnancy.
At the start of the pandemic, the government granted temporary permission for women to receive early abortion medication by post following a telemedical consultation with a nurse or midwife. This has reduced the numbers of women turning to illegal online pills by enabling access to legal treatment from the safety and privacy of their own homes. However, the government are currently considering revoking permission for this service, which would effectively recriminalise vulnerable women who cannot access in-clinic care.
The Health and Care Bill will be debated in parliament today. The reproductive healthcare charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, has urged MPs to support amendment NC50 to afford women in England and Wales the same protection from criminalisation for ending or attempting to end their pregnancy that Westminster provided for women in Northern Ireland in 2019.
Commenting on the amendment, Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, said:
“Under current law, any woman who ends their own pregnancy at any gestation without the permission of two doctors can face up to life imprisonment. While for most women access to abortion care is relatively straightforward, for some very vulnerable women, travelling to a clinic for treatment is nearly impossible. This includes victims of domestic violence, those with severe pregnancy sickness, and those caring for disabled relatives. The current provision of telemedicine, which was introduced as a temporary measure during the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has helped these women access legal care from the safety of their own homes. However, if the government were to revoke permission for the service, vulnerable women will once again turn to online pills and risk criminalisation.
“Amendment N50 would not change the way in which abortion services are provided, nor affect the significant body of regulation which applies to abortion care. No woman should face imprisonment for inducing their own miscarriage. In the 21st century, we should be trusting women to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies. We urge all MPs to support this amendment.”
The full text of the amendment NC50 can be found online here.
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