5 reasons to join the campaign to decriminalise abortion

Today, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service is launching the We Trust Women campaign to take abortion out of the criminal law across the UK. We are delighted to be supported by so many women’s organisations – including Fawcett – in calling for Victorian-era legislation, which threatens women with prison for ending their pregnancies, to be scrapped. We want a framework that puts  women centre-stage, and trusts them to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies.

Here are 5 reasons why we should take abortion out of the criminal law and regulate it like all other clinical procedures.

Criminalising abortion denies women fundamental rights

In 2016, a woman cannot choose for herself to have an abortion. Our abortion laws are still underpinned by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA), which made it a crime punishable by like imprisonment for any woman to deliberately cause her own miscarriage. The 1967 Abortion Act did not get rid of the OAPA, rather it allows abortion only when two doctors agree and certify that a woman meet certain criteria. And 1967 Act has never extended to Northern Ireland.

Women in every country in the UK should be trusted to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies. To compel a woman to endure pregnancy and childbirth unless doctors give her legal authorisation to have an abortion is to deny her the right to control her own body, plan her own family and determine her own life course.

Women can be imprisoned for causing their own miscarriage

A woman who uses abortion medication at home, now widely available online, can be sent to prison for life. The UK has one of the harshest penalties for self-induced abortion of any other country in Europe – with the exception of Ireland. Our neighbours in comparable European countries such as France and Sweden do not imprison women for causing their own abortions – and even in Poland, where abortion is highly restricted – women cannot be prosecuted.

Criminalising abortion deters doctors and compromises women’s care

A doctor who provides safe abortion care to a woman who has requested it without the approval of a second doctor, or fails to provide Government officials with a certificate to show that the abortion was carried out on legal grounds, can be sent to prison. This threat of prosecution, unique to abortion, deters doctors from entering this field of women’s healthcare. On occasion therefore women are unable to find a doctor willing or able to help them.

Treatment can be delayed because doctors must comply with unnecessary laws that have no clinical benefit, and are open to perverse interpretation Nurses and midwives who can provide highly skilled, complex care in other fields are excluded from offering straightforward abortion care to women who need it because the law permits only doctors to practice.

It is at odds with fundamental legal principles

The fact that abortion remains within criminal law sits at odds with other well established legal principles that a person’s body is their own.

No-one can be compelled to undergo medical intervention against their will – including pregnant women whose fetus may die as a result. Life-saving organs cannot be taken from the dead body of someone who made clear they did not wish to donate, yet a living woman can be compelled to sustain a fetus against her will from the moment a fertilised egg implants in her womb.

Public opinion supports women’s choice

Public opinion on abortion is now more liberal than the law, with two-thirds of people believing that abortion should be allowed according to a woman’s choice, compared to just over a third (37%) 30 years ago. There are around 200,000 abortions a year in the UK and one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Sexual health policy supports the provision of abortion as a back-up to contraceptive failure, and 98% of abortions are funded by the NHS.

Taking abortion out of the criminal law will not change the numbers of women having abortions, but regulating it in the same way as any other healthcare procedure would be far more suited to the beliefs and values of our society today. It would be a statement that we trust women. It would recognise just how far we have come since 1861.

Women should decide if, when and with whom they have children. We should trust women to make those choices.

Join the We Trust Women campaign to decriminalise abortion today.

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Ann Furedi
Ann Furedi is chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a charity that provides abortion advice and care to nearly 70000 women every year and campaigns for women's reproductive choice.