As MPs prepare to vote on Diana Johnson MP’s Ten Minute Rule Bill today (23 October) which would take abortion out of the criminal law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, EVAW and our members Imkaan, Rape Crisis England & Wales, Southall Black Sisters, Women’s Aid Federation of England, and the Fawcett Society, have shared a briefing which highlights how necessary such a change is to ensure that women experiencing abuse and control are able to access abortion services.
Under a law from 1861, abortion remains a crime in the UK, with a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The 1967 Abortion Act gave some women access to abortion, but it did not apply to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion law has been repeatedly condemned in recent years, including by the Supreme Court which called it “untenable” and in need of “radical reconsideration”, and by UN Human Rights body CEDAW which called it a “grave and systematic” violation of NI women’s rights.
In England, Wales and Scotland, the 1967 Act permitted abortion in certain circumstances, but it did not replace the underlying 1861 law or decriminalise abortion. If the strict stipulations of the 1967 Act are not met, women and their doctors remain at risk of prosecution. This can have a potential chilling effect on the relationship between women and their doctors.
This is why women’s organisations are now calling for abortion to be decriminalised across the UK – enabling women to make their own decisions about their bodies and healthcare without the risk of prosecution. When abuse is part of the context in which a woman needs to make a decision about abortion, the reform of the law in order to ensure she has a clear right to health is imperative.