The BMA has a longstanding policy which supports the Abortion Act of 1967.
By: Kimberly Rodrigues
Although the 1967 Abortion Act legalises terminations in England, Wales and Scotland (up to 23 weeks), neither the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act nor the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 have been repealed. This means those women who have unregulated abortions or try to end their pregnancy without medical supervision can face life sentence, reports The Telegraph.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is therefore calling for the Government to decriminalise abortion after cases of women facing prosecution have emerged. They have highlighted at least 17 investigations over the last eight years.
The Telegraph reports that the organisation had already joined 66 bodies insisting for the Director of Prosecutions to stop a number of cases going ahead.
Earlier this year, ministers in the UK had announced plans to return to previous rules, which required women undergoing a termination of pregnancy to have a consultation in person with a doctor first.
However, the Government was forced to back down, following a free vote by MPs who voted to keep the “pills-by-post” system, said The Telegraph. According to this law – women are allowed to take pills without visiting a clinic or hospital (a law that was enforced during the Covid pandemic).
Now, leading medics are urging ministers to decriminalise terminations, meaning women would not have to face criminal sanctions for undergoing abortions without the certification of two medics. This comes as a number of cases, including one woman in Oxford who self-administered misoprostol (pill for abortions) in 2021 in an effort to terminate her pregnancy.
In another case, (earlier this month), a woman was arrested in hospital and kept in police custody for 36 hours – she was suspected of having had an illegal abortion and is reported to have suffered a stillbirth, according to medics.
Dr Edward Morris, president of the Royal College, is reported to have said women should be free to have an abortion without fear of prosecution.
He adds, “Women who may face charges are often in desperate or vulnerable situations, and the current legislation may further deter them from seeking the support and aftercare they need. It is our belief that prosecuting a woman for ending their pregnancy will never be in the public interest.
“To ensure that all women and girls are provided with support without fear of prosecution, abortion must be decriminalised, while remaining subject to the regulatory and professional standards of all other medical procedures.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) has a longstanding policy which supports the Abortion Act 1967 as “a practical and humane piece of legislation.” The 1967 Act makes abortion on licensed premises lawful under specific conditions.
The BMA believes it is critical that women are given the time to make the right decision for them, whether to continue or end a much-wanted pregnancy in the second or third trimester, when a diagnosis of a serious or fatal fetal abnormality is made.
Dr Morris is of the opinion that the suggested changes in the law would ensure women who had suffered a miscarriage would not be investigated for criminal activity. He is quoted as saying, “Decriminalising abortion is an act to protect the reproductive rights of women and girls, and prevent causing further harm through cruel investigations.”
The Royal College has also issued a joint statement with the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), calling for decriminalisation.
Speaking about why abortion should be decriminalised Dr Asha Kasliwal, president of the FSRH is reported to have said, “All women should be able to access abortion services easily and without fear of penalty or harassment. Decriminalising abortion will help to remove stigma, remove fear and reiterate to women that they have the right to control their own sexual and reproductive health choices. “Abortion care is highly regulated and should solely be subject to appropriate professional standards in line with any other healthcare procedures, not criminal sanctions.”
Following the US Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn the Roe v Wade ruling, ending US women’s legal right to have abortions – the BMA is reported to have said Britain should offer free abortions to women from the US who are unable to secure them.
Around 4,000 of the 80,000 women the British Pregnancy Advisory Service provides abortions to every year are international patients, The Telegraph informs. These patients are charged between £480 and £1,510 in total for a consultation and the procedure.
However, the BMA agreed doctors would lobby to “support the provision of free and safe abortion care to all nationals seeking this in the UK, without subjecting them to the overseas patient upfront tariff, regardless of borders.”