A parliamentary amendment is due to be considered on Monday, 5 July which would remove all legal safeguards against abortion.

The impact of this move, if passed, could potentially allow abortion without restriction up to birth and for any reason including on the basis of the unborn child’s sex. 

Abortion is currently regulated through the 1967 Abortion Act which created a set of exemptions to a much older piece of legislation that had categorised all abortions as illegal. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act is still the primary law that regulates abortion and the current effort to amend it would have far-reaching consequences. 

The UK parliament will consider the next stages of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC Bill) on 5 July, and Diana Johnson MP has lodged an amendment which will remove the key sections of the 1861 law. While proposed to decriminalise abortion, this amendment (New Clause 55) could entirely deregulate it. Although campaigners may champion the change as a progressive and compassionate move, the removal of all safeguards could cause far more harm. The proposed amendment does not set out when abortion would be allowed or for what purposes because if it passes it would be allowed in all circumstances. There is one additional clause which introduces a new offence of the non-consensual termination of pregnancy’. This new offence is only required because the amendment sweeps away all existing regulation. 

The Abortion Act is often viewed as a liberalising piece of legislation allowing abortion, but in this situation it provides the last remaining safeguards for unborn children. If this amendment passes, the entire Abortion Act becomes redundant and there is no protection for unborn children whatsoever in law. This is not about addressing hard cases or difficult situations but normalising a culture of abortion.

Hijacking parliamentary business

This is a hugely significant proposal and MPs are trying to squeeze this amendment into a piece of legislation that has nothing to do with abortion. The PCSC Bill is wide ranging and touches on many different areas of criminal justice, which is why campaigners hope to be able to hijack it to bring about this change. The Speaker will decide on the day of the debate which amendments are selected and he may decide that the abortion amendment is outside the scope of the bill, but there is significant risk it will be allowed, debated and voted on. 

The current law protects women from unsafe and unregulated abortions and provides at least a small measure of protection for unborn children. This proposal would undermine the safety of both. Recent changes have seen the introduction of at-home abortion, initially due to the pandemic, but there’s a risk this could be extended further or even made permanent. Such a prospect has led to increased awareness around the risks of terminating pregnancies and the need for good medical care throughout pregnancy. By removing the law and deregulating abortion, any suggestion that this is for the safety of women is hard to accept. 

Despite the slogans, abortion is not just a private matter; it has wide-ranging implications for all of society. It is also unhelpful to remove law entirely from healthcare; many areas of medicine have legal aspects to ensure they operate safely and provide a backstop to protect human life.

Seeking the best for women and their babies

The proposed New Clause 55 is an extreme effort to extend individual autonomy at the expense of caring for both women and their babies. Polling suggests that the vast majority of the public do not support this approach; in fact, only two per cent of the public support abortion being allowed beyond 24 weeks, while six out of 10 respondents said the time limit should be reduced. 

This proposed change to the law would take away the safeguards that currently exist; there would be no requirement that abortions take place in a hospital or clinic — they could happen anywhere. There would be no need for doctor to authorise the abortion, never mind the two currently required. Combined, the removal of these protections and safeguards could have serious consequences for women in situations involving coercive control and domestic violence, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The legislation also threatens any option for a doctor to recuse themselves for reasons of conscience.

Providing safeguards is not about promoting moralism, or a tussle between the right of mother and child. These are deeply sensitive issues and healthcare should recognise and care for both patients instead of promoting an ideology that takes personal autonomy to an extreme position, literally at the expense of the other. 

Stand with us and speak up

We encourage you to contact your MP and ask them to vote against New Clause 55 on Monday, 5 July. 

A change as substantial as this deserves far more scrutiny and attention. Any changes should require consultation and careful thought to how to safeguard women and children. This proposal is unwanted by the public, and it is abusing parliamentary process to try and bring it in via this law. 

We want to speak up for compassionate care of women and children. As a society we want to address the structural and systemic reasons why women choose to have abortions rather than remove the safeguards that are in place. 

We see all people as created in the image of God and we want a society, in our legal system, in our healthcare and in our public conversation, that values all of life. This law fails that test, and it is vital MPs do not support it.