At the time of this update, the Criminal Justice Bill had concluded two out of three witness evidence sessions with barristers, victim support agencies and senior police offices and will resume further deliberation in the new year. Now is an opportune time to highlight the implications if either amendment was voted for in the Commons.

On 28 November 2023, the Criminal Justice Bill received its second reading in the Commons. This is the government’s flagship legislation to introduce tougher sentences for those who commit sexual and violent offences and increase police powers to tackle anti-social behaviour in the community, drug offences and knife violence on the streets. 

So, the question is, why does a bill focused on law and order haves two amendments to decriminalise abortion? The short answer is Stella Creasy and Diana Johnson. The more complex response is a combination of the tragic case of Carla Foster, at home abortion pills and changes to Northern Ireland abortion law in 2019

Let’s start by outlining both Labour backbench MPs’ amendments.

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Decriminalising abortion protects women argue Labour MPs

Diana Johnson (MP for Kingston upon Hull North) and Stella Creasy (MP for Walthamstow) are influential campaigners for the liberalising of abortion laws, regulations and access in the UK.

Both attended the second reading and gave impassioned speeches on the need to modernise abortion laws and remove criminal prosecutions from all abortions that were not administered by two doctors. However, they took different approaches to achieving this end.

Johnson’s amendment (NC1) has the support of several Labour backbench MPs and most notable signature from Caroline Noakes, Conservative MP and the chair for the Women and Equalities Select Committee. NC1 seeks to remove women from criminal law related to their own abortion. 

In practice, this would remove all legal restrictions for an abortion, including a self-induced abortion at any stage of pregnancy. A self-induced abortion would not be investigated, nor would the woman (or third party) be held legally accountable for their actions.

Creasy’s amendment (NC2) has an even more extreme clause and has strong cross-party support for her amendment. NC2 would revoke sections 58, 59 and 60 of the Offences Against the Person Act. The harsh reality if these sections were repealed are that:

  • A third party who attacks or poisons a woman who is pregnant, causing the miscarriage of her unborn baby at any stage of pregnancy including up to birth would not face criminal proceedings (section 58).
  • The individual who supplied or procured abortifacients or other means to end pregnancy outside of a legal framework, would not be held accountable for their actions and this includes harm done to either life (section 59).
  • A mother or another individual who concealed the birth, death or disposal of a newborn child, would not face criminal prosecution (section 60).

Those who support repealing these sections cite changes to law in Northern Ireland in 2019 as a template for decriminalising abortion in England and Wales. They also argue that these changes will trigger a more fitting’ medical response rather than a criminal one, to traumatic pregnancies that end in miscarriage or abortion. But this is a misreading of the purpose of the law. 

The recent case of Carla Foster a mother of three in her mid-40s who received abortion pills in the post at 32 – 34 weeks’ gestation and was later sentenced and released is a tragedy, which highlights when abortion laws are weakened and early medical abortion pills are easily accessible from home, without in-person medical assessments, duty of care to women is lost.

Abortion laws provide a legal framework within which abortion can take place and limit what can be an intrusive and high-risk procedure for both lives. More importantly, the law seeks to protect both lives from harm during pregnancy, its vital that these safeguards are not repealed.

The criminal law safeguards both lives in pregnancy

Abortion is regulated through three important Acts, the Abortion Act 1967, The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and Infant Life (Preservation Act) 1929

Together they provide medical safeguards to when an abortion can take place, but more importantly, provide some form of legal protection for the mother and unborn child. This is crucial, especially where there have been convictions and several investigations showing harm done to women and their unborn child by an abusive partner.

The abortion debate in this country restricts conversation to my body my choice’ and increasing access for all women, but abortion is also about protection under law and duty of care when an individual or medical procedure risks harm to mother and/​or child.

As Christians we hold dear to the beautiful truth of God’s design and creation of life pre-birth and that truth, plus Jesus’ Incarnation, both demonstrate to us God’s high value on life, from the womb. Such convictions drive our engagement on this issue in the public square. But let us also advocate for safeguards and protection in law for both lives in pregnancy. 

To liberalise abortion laws to this extent could lead to coercive abortions and abusive relationships going unreported, abortions up to birth normalised in health provisions and infanticide made acceptable in law.

"I lament the impoverishment of a social imagination that cannot conceive of a world in which women can flourish without abortion."
Karen Swallow Prior
Karen Swallow Prior Ph. D
Author and professor

Give your voice to a pro-both campaign in January 2024

The committee will resume deliberations on 11 January 2024, where it will hold its final evidence session. Following that, it will conclude its findings where MPs will have an opportunity to vote on all proposed changes and amendments. 

Here at the Evangelical Alliance, we have already begun working on our written response to the committee’s call for evidence where we will be outlining the risks both Labour MPs’ amendments will have on the safety and legal protection of both mother and child. 

To support our members to engage well on this issue, we will be publishing a Write to your MP guide in time for the vote on the Bill, expected 30 January.

The untold story of abortion in England and Wales is that 2021 saw the highest numbers since the Abortion Act was introduced (over 200,000), 214, 256 to be precise, the majority of which were for women aged 22. Abortion is not an issue of lack of access but the complex labyrinth that low income and standard of living drives a woman’s decisions to end their pregnancy. It is our vision that society, law and the health professionals will value the life and health of every woman and unborn child and commit to pursuing the wellbeing of both.

Will you lend your voice to a pro-both campaign in the new year?

From 8 January we are publishing new God Unborn and Both Lives resources. To learn more about how we are promoting both lives in pregnancy, read:

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