It’s true. There’s an element of the ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ on our own doorstep. It is still a criminal offence to have an abortion in England and Wales under certain conditions.
Due to the 1967 Abortion Act (yes, it is 50 years old and counting), women have to prove to two doctors that continuing the pregnancy will be detrimental to their health and wellbeing. If the doctors give permission, a woman is able to carry out a termination. Without this permission, abortion is a criminal offence.
Thankfully, doctor’s union the British Medical Association has voted at its annual conference to scrap that rule and lobby the government for the decriminalisation of abortion. Instead, they want abortion to be treated like any other medical procedure.
“Abortion is currently a crime, with exceptions, throughout the UK,” Dr John Chisholm, who chairs the BMA medical ethics committee, said.
“Following the debate, the majority of doctors were clear that abortion should be treated as a medical issue rather than a criminal one.
“What must be clear is that decriminalisation does not mean deregulation.
“The debate and the BMA’s new policy only relate to whether abortion should or should not be a criminal offence – the policy does not address the broader issue of when and how abortion should be available.”
The union still, however, backs the 24-week limit for abortion.
“Abortion is never an easy thing to do for any woman or for any man,” Dr Clare Gerada, former chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs and a trustee of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), said.
“But for abortion to be governed by criminal law rather than governed by healthcare regulation is nonsense.
“The BMA doesn’t make law, but the BMA is a very powerful voice for doctors and it’s a very powerful voice for people of this country.”
A spokesperson for the BPAS added in a separate statement: “Decriminalisation does not mean deregulation, or that abortions could be legally performed on women by unqualified individuals: it would simply mean that abortion could be governed in the same robust way as all other clinical procedures are in the UK today, and that doctors could provide woman-centred care according to the highest clinical standards, rather than legislation that is now 50 years old.
“It would also ensure that any woman who uses abortion medication without the authorisation of two doctors would no longer face the threat of life in prison, as is the case today.”
The reform of the 1967 Abortion Act was debated by MPs in Parliament in March 2017. Here’s hoping the BMA successfully lobby for change before it all gets buried under a Tsunami of Brexit legislation over the next two years.