Government legislation tackling domestic abuse is being hijacked by proposals to remove all restrictions on abortion before 28 weeks.

UPDATE: The Speaker of the House of Commons has not selected the amendment to decriminalise abortion for debate and vote. MPs will however still vote on a proposed amendment to allow women in abusive relationships access to home abortion kits throughout the first 24 weeks of their pregnancy.

Proposals are being debated in parliament that if passed will decriminalise abortion in England and Wales and in doing so remove all of the protections provided by the 1967 Abortion Act. The only remaining legal restriction if this amendment is passed is a ban on abortions after the child is deemed viable, and this is specified in a 1929 law as 28 weeks gestation. This means abortions could be pursued because of a child’s sex or the presence of disability, and all without the safeguards and provisions of medical checks and doctors’ approval.

This follows changes introduced in Northern Ireland which were tacked onto legislation removing all criminal offences around abortion and paved the way to permit the widest availability of abortion in the UK. In Northern Ireland it is now legal for a woman to self-abort all the way up to birth. Parliament has shown that it is prepared to make sweeping changes without scrutiny; we can’t let this happen again. 

The Domestic Abuse Bill is a valuable piece of legislation and the attempt to use it to introduce the widest changes to abortion in decades undermines this crucial work. If parliament wants to radically change the law on abortion, such a crucial social issue, it should be done through a dedicated bill and with proper parliamentary scrutiny, not in the margins and at the last minute of a bill. Please contact your MP today using the form on CARE’s website and ask them to protect the Domestic Abuse Bill and resist this wide-ranging liberalisation of abortion. 


How does this proposal change the abortion law?

The 1967 Abortion Act permitted abortion for various reason and placed restrictions on when and where it could take place. Behind this act of parliament is an older piece of legislation, the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act, which made abortion illegal. 

The 1967 Act created exemptions from this law where abortion would be legal. Campaigners propose removing two sections (58 and 59) from the 1861 Act, which would make abortion legal and make all the restrictions in the 1967 Act redundant. New Clause 29 for the Domestic Abuse Bill proposes removing these sections and replacing them with a new offence of forcing someone into having an abortion. For absolute clarity in calling for MPs to reject this amendment we are not suggesting forced abortion should not be a crime, it’s just it shouldn’t be placed on the statute books in this manner. 

If this proposal is passed the only remaining legal restriction on abortion is the 1929 Infant Life (Preservations) Act, which makes it a criminal offence to destroy the life of a child capable of being born alive, and this is specified as being at 28 weeks gestation. 

This means that abortion will be available, without restriction or regulation, up to 28 weeks if the amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill is passed. It is no exaggeration to see this as the biggest change since 1967, nor to highlight the risks of sex-selective abortion or protection of unborn babies with disabilities.