Decriminalise abortion to stop women being ‘harassed’ with investigations and prosecutions, says campaigner MP

‘We have seen 15-year-old girls who have had stillbirths being investigated and having a police officer turn up at their hospital bed,’ says MP Stella Creasy

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Monday 08 April 2024 15:56 BST
Stella Creasy says abortions must be treated as healthcare rather than a ‘criminal matter’ (Laura Lean/PA)
Stella Creasy says abortions must be treated as healthcare rather than a ‘criminal matter’ (Laura Lean/PA) (PA Archive)

Abortion must be decriminalised to stop women suspected of illegal terminations being harassed via police investigations and prosecutions, a high-profile Labour MP has warned.

Stella Creasy, who is backing proposals to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales, told The Independent that abortions must be treated as healthcare rather than a “criminal matter”.

Ms Creasy is one of a group of cross-party MPs putting forward an amendment to the government’s Criminal Justice Bill which would decriminalise abortion during the current time limit of 24 weeks and safeguard medics who help provide terminations.

The legislation is expected to be debated towards the end of April but it is not yet clear which of the various amendments to the bill will be voted on.

Ms Creasy said: “We have seen 15-year-old girls who have had stillbirths being investigated and having a police officer turn up at their hospital bed when actually what they need is a counsellor. The case for decriminalisation is overwhelming.”

The Labour MP for Walthamstow, who is an outspoken campaigner for abortion rights, argued there would be an “outcry” if men were asked to justify a vasectomy by two doctors and subject to the same conditions as women who have abortions.

Women must be able to access abortions “in dignity and privacy without anybody questioning their choice because it is their choice to make”, Ms Creasy added.

Abortions can legally be carried out within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy in England, Scotland and Wales.

But pregnancy terminations must be approved by two doctors, with the health professionals agreeing that continuing with the pregnancy would be riskier for the physical or mental health of the woman than having an abortion.

If a medical professional delivers an abortion outside of the terms of the 1967 act, they are at risk of being prosecuted. Legislation passed in 1861 means any woman who ends a pregnancy without getting legal permission from two doctors can face up to life imprisonment.

Current abortion rules lead to women facing delays and sometimes not being able to access terminations until later on in their pregnancy, Ms Creasy said.

The newly proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice bill, which was tabled last week, will make sure individuals who have abortions after the legal time limit are not imprisoned and prosecutions will only take place if the Director of Public Prosecutions decides doing so is in the public interest.

On top of this, the amendment will also implement a “lock” to ensure future legislation and guidance safeguards the right to have an abortion and terminations can only be restricted if parliament expressly decides this.

Discussing the lock, Ms Creasy said: “Given the growing evidence of increased anti-abortion activism, and the huge amounts of money they are raising to campaign, this would be an important part of protecting future services.”

She explained she had seen first-hand “how organised and mobilised” anti-abortion activists are - adding there is genuine concern that the “backlash is already well-funded and ready to go”.

It comes after Ms Creasy recently toldThe Independent that US-funded anti-abortion activists have begun a crusade of harassment against her - targeting her in a “persistent and sustained” pattern, accusing her of “killing babies”.

Speaking in an exclusive interview, the politician said she is facing “a bonfire of abuse” from anti-abortion ideologues on social media in punishment for campaigning on abortion rights.

Protesters have harassed nearby residents and leafletted her constituency with graphic imagery, she said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We understand this is an extremely sensitive issue and all women have access to safe and legal abortions on the NHS.

“Decisions to prosecute in England and Wales are for the Crown Prosecution Service and any change to the law in this area would be a matter of conscience for individual MPs rather than the government.”

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