A lot of constiuents have contacted me about the decriminalisation of abortion and the Ten Minute Rule Bill that will be heard in the Commons on 23rd October 2018.
I can confirm that I will be voting for this bill and that I support the decriminalisation of abortion.
In March 2017 Diana Johnson MP introduced a Bill to the House of Commons that sought to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales. On that occasion 172 MPs voted to support the bill and 142 MPs opposed it. Unfortunately, it did not make any further progress due to the General Election in June 2017.
Abortion law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is underpinned by the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act. Abortion remains a criminal offence under sections 58 and 59 of the Act for any women who procures her own miscarriage and anyone who assists her – punishable by life imprisonment. This is one the harshest criminal penalties in the world.
In England and Wales an abortion can be legally performed in certain circumstances, as set out by the 1967 Abortion Act. For example, where two doctors agree that continuation of the pregnancy would involve a higher risk to physical or mental health of the woman than if the pregnancy were terminated.
However the 1967 Act has never been extended to Northern Ireland so abortion almost never happens legally in Northern Ireland. This means that a woman who has an abortion in Northern Ireland after being impregnated through rape or incest potentially faces a heavier criminal punishment than the perpetrator – the real criminal.
It is also important to remember that if a woman anywhere in the country – Brighton to Belfast to Cardiff – uses abortion tablets purchased over the internet they are currently committing a criminal offence. These women are often the most vulnerable in the most desperate circumstances. Women on Web, a doctor-led online medical service found that 16% of women cite domestic or “Honour” violence, and 8% intimate partner violence, as reasons for women seeking tablets online.
Diana Johnson MP’s Abortion Bill
This Abortion Bill is an opportunity to take the criminal law out of what is a healthcare issue and to update our legislation to reflect the changes in women’s healthcare over the past 50 years. It is important to remember that most abortions happen very early on in a pregnancy (more than 80% happen before 10 weeks) and the majority are medical abortions, using pills, rather than a surgical procedure.
Decriminalisation will not mean deregulation.
The existing body of law and professional standards governing medical procedures would stay in place to ensure safe termination services. For example, abortion providers and clinics will be regulated by bodies such as the Care Quality Commission, healthcare professionals must be trained and registered with their relevant Council, while anyone supplying the medication needed for a medical abortion without a legal prescription would be in breach of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012.
The Bill will not reduce the 24 week time limit currently in place. After 24 weeks, women and healthcare professionals would still remain subject to the current law.
There is currently legislation in place to allow doctors to conscientiously object to participating in abortion treatment in England and Wales. The Bill retains this right in England and Wales and extends it to doctors in Northern Ireland, where there is currently no statutory provision for conscientious objection.
Who Supports the Bill?
The Bill has received the support of The Royal College of Midwives, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, The British Medical Association, The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, Amnesty International, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Family Planning Association, Marie Stopes International, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, and Women’s Aid.
The Bill has cross-party support and has been co-sponsored by 11 Members of Parliament, including me, from five different political parties at Westminster.
I believe that it is wrong and an ongoing injustice that some women in the UK are denied access to a safe, legal abortion. Women in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as those in the rest of the UK and should not have to travel to other parts of Britain to avoid facing potential prosecution and imprisonment at home.
In June this year, the Supreme Court found that Northern Ireland’s abortion law breaches women’s human rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
A recent poll conducted by Amnesty International released on 10th October shows that 65% of people in Northern Ireland believe that “having an abortion should not be a crime”; and 66% supported the view that in the absence of devolved government “Westminster should legislate to reform the law”.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has not met since January 2017. In its absence, I believe that the UK Government must act on the moral and legal basis of upholding international human rights as set out in our international treaty obligations. Of course, I would like a devolved government to be re-established in Northern Ireland as soon as possible and they can then decide what abortion care should look like in Northern Ireland.
It may also interest you to know that as well as decriminalising abortion, the Bill will also seek to strengthen the protection of women against non-consensual abortions. Under the Bill any abortion that is caused as a result of violence or the administration of abortion pills without the woman’s consent would be subject to a new criminal offence that would carry a life sentence.