Currently, in England, two women are facing life imprisonment for ending their own pregnancies.
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. This type of criminal offence doesn’t exist around most of the world – even in places like Texas and Poland.
It’s a travesty of justice that in 2023, desperate women who are unable to access care within the formal system are criminalised for their actions.
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, Canada, France, and New Zealand.
We believe that the law on abortion needs to change. Abortion should no longer be part of the criminal law, but governed by healthcare law and regulation. Abortion is healthcare – and it should be treated like it.
This is what ‘decriminalisation’ means – removing specific crimes related to consensual abortion and ensuring that women in need are cared for and supported by medical professionals, not threatened with lengthy prison time.
We believe it is never in the public interest for a desperate woman who tries to end her own pregnancy to end up in court. Society has changed since 1861 – it’s time our law caught up.
In 2023, two women are on trial in England, and face life imprisonment for ending their own pregnancies. This is not in the public interest. To decriminalise abortion, we need parliamentary reform, and so we are working with parliamentarians on bringing about legislative change.
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.
Together, with 65 other organisations and individuals, we called on the Director of Public Prosecutions urging guidance to stop the prosecution of women who end their own pregnancies with immediate effect.
You can find our letter here.
The letter was signed by 66 organisations and individuals including members of the Queen’s Counsel, Barristers and Solicitors from across the profession. Organisational signatures included: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives, Liberty, Amnesty International, APPEAL, Karma Nirvana, Rape Crisis England and Wales, Mumsnet, Trades Union Congress, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, British Association of Abortion Care Providers, BPAS, NUPAS, Doctors for Choice UK, Terrence Higgins Trust, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, The Fawcett Society, Maternity Action, Southall Black Sisters, Women’s Equality Party, Level Up, Humanists UK, the National Secularist Society, Abortion Support Network, the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, and the Vagina Museum.