If abortion is not a crime, what is it?
Posted by Paul Tully on 22 November 2016
Paul Tully reflects on the news that the Women's Equality Party has launched a campaign to decriminalise abortion.
Abortion providers in Britain have long recognised that they skate on thin ice. Abortion in Britain is illegal, except when the Abortion Act exceptions apply. In practice, doctors can get away with invoking the exceptions in practically any situation (even sex-selection abortion it seems). But although the way the law is framed means that doctors escape prosecution, the practice of abortion-for-all-comers, often termed "abortion on demand", is unlawful. And the abortion providers (and their legal advisers) know this, and this is a key reason why they are asking for what they call "decriminalisation" of abortion.
Abortion providers are worried
There are also other reasons why British abortion providers are now beginning to get worried.Abortion numbers have dropped slightly in recent years, and keeping their revenues growing, by continually increasing the number of abortions, is their major concern. The fact that abortion remains a statutory offence reflects continued unease about abortion in society generally. Evidence of the adverse health impacts of abortion grows year by year, and there is the constant risk of a backlash if and when the medical establishment finally wakes up to the adverse mental and physical effects of abortion.
Removing all legal restrictions on abortion would undoubtedly help abortion providers to drive up the abortion rate. They could advertise abortion widely, provide it in "informal settings" and engage non-qualified abortionists - these would lead to more abortions. And crucially, they could provide abortion without any need for a medical justification.
There can be few people who do not realise that a baby one day before birth is just as human as a baby on the day of birth. What kind of society is it where a baby, born or pre-born, can be killed without legal constraint of any kind?
However, the removal of abortion from legal control could have unintended consequences for the abortion lobby. For one thing, whether abortion is a crime or not, it is certainly not healthcare. Indeed it is very bad for women's health. So why should the NHS offer it? Without the current fig-leaf of medical justification as required by the Abortion Act, there is no case for public funding.
The Women's Equality party claim that abortion is a "healthcare right", but in arguing for decriminalisation, they are arguing for abortion to be provided without any medical reason. But why should our over-stretched health service provide the facilities, the staff or the funding to end healthy pregnancies? Pregnancy is not a disease. The abortion lobby claim that abortion should simply be an independent choice that women make. (In reality the choice is often driven by relationships, finances, work, poverty, shame, family honour or other factors beyond her control.) However, if there is no health angle to abortion, the argument for NHS abortion provision does not hold up.
Doctors are not above the law
There is another crack in the ice on which the pro-choice lobby are skating. They claim that abortion is unique as a medical procedure that is regulated by law. They are making a big a mistake in thinking that medical procedures in general are not legally restricted. Doctors routinely do things such as giving restricted drugs, examining people and performing surgery - things which are in general prohibited by law. If doctors deliberately do such things when they are not justified by the patient's medical condition, they are not only breaching professional ethics, but can also be criminally liable.Doctors are not above the law.&
Relying on the contradictory and ill-applied abortion act has meant abortion providers have always been skating on thin ice. But removing the justification that abortion has anything to do with healthcare might mean they crash through it altogether.