Abortion is one step closer to finally being made legal in England and Wales, after MPs voted in favour of decriminalising the procedure.
Under the 1967 Abortion Act, abortion is only legal if it's approved by two doctors and if the pregnant person can show they meet certain criteria. This means people who have abortions without meeting these conditions are committing a crime, punishable by life in prison.
Yesterday, MPs supported a bill by 172 votes in favour of decriminalising abortion, versus 142 against, The Independent reported. It will now most likely be debated during a second reading on the 24th March before it can become law.
Increasing numbers of women are using pills bought online to induce terminations themselves, meaning many more are having abortions outside of the law – possibly without even realising they're committing a crime. Women who have a termination after the 24-week limit are also committing a criminal offence.
Labour MP Diana Johnson, who introduced the debate as a Ten-Minute rule bill in the House of Commons, said there are no other medical procedures in the country governed by legislation as old as the Abortion Act, adding that it is “out of step with medical developments and public attitudes,” reported The Independent.
"Doctors are poorly served by a criminal framework which does not apply to other areas of medicine," Johnson said.
Furthermore, public opinion seems to support decriminalising abortion. A recent YouGov survey for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which supports women seeking abortions, found that 66% of British adults don’t think a woman should go to prison for ending a pregnancy without the permission of doctors.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said the current law is “offensive and absurd”, BuzzFeed News reported. “If we do not think we should lock up a woman desperate enough to buy abortion pills online because she cannot access lawful services, we should no longer accept a law which says we should,” she said. The Royal College of Midwives, the midwifery trade union, also supports the new bill.
However, anti-abortion groups say it could lead to an increase in the number of abortions taking place further along into a pregnancy, or encourage people to have gender-selective abortions.