Abortion should be decriminalised in Britain, campaign urges

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service calling for an end to 'cruel, archaic abortion laws' from the Victorian era

Abortion should be decriminalised and women trusted to make their own decisions over pregnancies without fear of arrest, a new campaign is urging.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) is calling for an end to “cruel, archaic abortion laws” from the Victorian era used to enable prosecutions in the 21st century. 

The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act - passed before women could vote – threatens the harshest punishments for self-induced abortion imposed by any country in Europe today, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland the group said.

The 1967 Abortion Act did not overturn this law, but made abortion lawful if two doctors agreed a woman’s mental or physical health would suffer if forced to continue her pregnancy. It did not extend to Northern Ireland, where two women are currently facing imprisonment under for buying abortion medication online - one for inducing her own abortion and a mother who wanted to help her daughter. 

But even where the law applies, abortion is not a choice a woman can make for herself, but a decision which must be made on her behalf by doctors.  

Last year in Durham a young mother was imprisoned for two-and-a-half-years for inducing a miscarriage in the third trimester and also using medication bought online. The increasing availability and knowledge of these pills means more women are likely to put themselves at risk of prosecution, Bpas say.

Their We Trust Women campaign is being supported by a several women’s organisations including the Fawcett Society, Royal College of Midwives and Women’s Aid.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of Bpas, said: “One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime in the UK. The ability to end a pregnancy has enabled women to live their lives in the way that they see fit and bear children at the time they think is right. It is high time we recognised this by taking abortion out of the criminal law, and making clear that we trust women to make their own decisions about their own lives and bodies.”

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