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Five reasons why abortion should not be decriminalised

Posted by Alithea Williams on 18 October 2018

Diana Johnson MP (far left) and other MPs pushing for decriminalisation.  

Next week, Diana Johnson, the Labour MP for Hull North, will again move a Ten Minute Rule bill calling for the decriminalisation of abortion.

While this type of bill is used to raise a particular issue in the House of Commons and does not generally reach the statute book, the outcome of Ms Johnson's bill will be significant in terms of future parliamentary action by the pro-abortion lobby.

To many, the arguments for decriminalising abortion will seem compelling. After all, few people would want women who have had abortions to be imprisoned, and the language about "trusting women" can be hard to argue with.However, there are many reasons why abortion should not be decriminalised. These reasons don't just apply to people who hold a fully pro-life position; of course, those of us that do, believe that the 1967 Abortion Act is a bad law, but making it redundant (as decriminalising abortion would do) would make things worse for women, as well as their unborn babies. So, here are my top 5 reasons why abortion should not be decriminalised.

1. Women's safety

While the current abortion laws do not do much to protect unborn babies, they do go some way to protect women from mistreatment both by abortion providers and by abusive partners or family members. Recent years have seen the Government stepping in (if inadequately) when poor standards are uncovered at clinics. The Care Quality Commission suspended services at several Marie Stopes clinics and has demanded significant improvements after inspectors found numerous examples of safety violations which put women at risk. The report from the Maidstone Marie Stopes alone found that staff described it as a "cattle-market" with a "culture that worked against patient choice." Staff were paid bonuses for encouraging women to go through with abortions, there were serious failures in infection control, patients were inappropriately sedated, and, most worryingly, abortions were carried out on children without proper consent and without safeguarding referrals being made.

The inspectors reports were horrific ( and the findings were replicated at many other locations) but how much worse would matters be if there were no outside regulation, no inspections? If these kinds of abuses are happening now, how much worse would things be if abortion providers were not subject to the criminal law?

2. Protecting women from coercion

Having abortion within the criminal law also offers some protection from abuse and coercion. It is the clauses of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (which the pro-abortion lobby is seeking to repeal) which have been used to prosecute men who laced women's food with abortion drugs. We also know that women are often coerced into abortion, sometimes on the grounds that the baby is a girl. Not having to give any reason for abortion and removing the requirement for two doctors to see a woman first will make this all the easier for abusive men.

Women in violent relationships would also be at greater risk when abusive men are able to by-pass any medical setting and readily obtain abortion pills elsewhere.

3. Imposing abortion on Northern Ireland

One of the reasons Diana Johnson and her allies are seeking to repeal sections of the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) is that not only would it decriminalise abortion in England and Wales, it would also do so in Northern Ireland. The 1861 Act is the primary abortion legislation in Northern Ireland. As Northern Ireland currently has no executive, this would mean making an enormous moral and legal change with no participation from the people democratically elected to represent the people of Northern Ireland. It cannot be right that Diana Johnson, who represents Hull North, and is a member of a party that doesn't even stand candidates in Northern Ireland, should be seeking to make this change.  Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley said that

acting to reform the law from Westminster would "disenfranchise 1.3 million citizens of the United Kingdom." She went on to say that in Northern Ireland, "there is a cross-party, cross-community consensus that Westminster should not impose its will in this highly sensitive, devolved area." 

Apart from the fact that decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland would ride roughshod over the devolution settlement, repealing the relevant sections of the OAPA would leave the Province with no laws governing abortion at all, a dangerous situation for women. Karen Bradley said doing so "would leave a gap in the law, and without any new provisions it offers no safeguards for women." 

4. Democratic accountability

Many of those calling for decriminalisation say that abortion is a medical treatment which should be regulated by the healthcare profession, not by the criminal law. There are several problems with this. Whether you approve of abortion or not, it is undeniable that there is strong social controversy about it, particularly around allowing it on demand and at the expense of the taxpayer. It is thus ridiculous to suggest that the power to regulate it be taken away from elected politicians and handed to factions of the medical profession, who won’t have to answer to anyone. It is vital that the democratic link be maintained and the public can lobby their accountable politicians about this matter.

Abortion is the taking of a human life. Even you believe it is necessary or permissible in certain circumstances, it is a serious matter, and one that should be regulated by the criminal law.

5. It should not be left to the medical profession to regulate abortion

Apart from the positive reasons why abortion should be regulated by elected, accountable politicians, there are also reasons why it should not be regulated by the medical profession. Abortion providers admit that the vast majority of abortions are not carried out on "medical" grounds, but because the baby is unwanted. In fact, the advocates of decriminalisation want to remove the requirement for any medical reason to be given! It is therefore extraordinary that it should be thought appropriate for the medical profession to regulate abortion.

If the law is changed, it is likely that regulation of abortion would fall to bodies like the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The head of the RCOG, Lesley Regan, has led calls for abortion to be decriminalised, and has said it should be treated no differently from other "medical procedures" - including something as simple as removing a bunion. The RCOG, along with the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Midwives are openly collaborating with the abortion industry in the push for decriminalisation. Therefore, the regulation of abortion would be handed over to those who effectively constitute the abortion industry in this country. Especially in light of the abuses explored above, this would be highly irresponsible. 

These are just some of the reasons why abortion should not decriminalised. You can read more in our briefing. Help us campaign against the bill.

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