Under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, it is a crime for a woman to end her own pregnancy outside a hospital or clinic at any gestation. The crime carries a maximum life sentence, the harshest in the world, and was passed more than 50 years before women even had the vote.
We believe the law needs to change to bring the rest of the UK into line with recent law changes in Northern Ireland, and with many countries across the world including Ireland, the United States, Canada, France, and New Zealand.
We are calling on MPs to support Amendment NC50 to the Health and Care Bill. This amendment would stop sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act – the parts of this law that criminalise abortion – from applying to women ending their own pregnancy.
In short, it would mean that women would not face the potential of prosecution for ending or attempting to end their own pregnancy before 24 weeks’ gestation.
For some women, travelling to an abortion clinic is nearly impossible. These women are faced with two choices – continuing a pregnancy they do not want, or risking prosecution by ending their pregnancy, usually in the earliest stages, outside a healthcare facility.
The women most affected by this legal provision are the most vulnerable. These include women who are the victims of domestic or so-called honour-based violence, those with caring responsibilities, and those who are unable to travel.
No woman should face prison for inducing a miscarriage. In the 21st century, we should be trusting women to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies.
This new amendment would not change anything about abortion law other than stopping the criminalisation of women before 24 weeks.
It would not change the abortion time limit, and it would not change how abortion care is provided. Women would still need to obtain the signatures of two doctors before treatment, the current time limit for abortions would remain the same and clinical care would still need to take place in an NHS hospital or licensed premises.
It would mean that if a woman needed clinical help or support after ending a pregnancy outside the current law, she could attend A&E without fear of criminalisation.
Amendment NC50 is not about changing abortion care – it’s about protecting the most vulnerable women and ensuring women aren’t prosecuted for exercising basic reproductive choice.