Decriminalisation of Abortion

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:00 pm on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 1:00 pm, 23rd July 2019

I thank the Minister for her response, although it is a very disappointing response that does not address the subject of my question: England and Wales. I am also disappointed that we do not have a Minister from the Home Office, because this is a matter of criminal law.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which repeals sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 in Northern Ireland, completed its parliamentary passage yesterday, but those sections still apply in England and Wales, meaning that any woman who ends a pregnancy without the permission of two doctors faces up to life imprisonment. That includes women who obtain pills online, and they might be women in abusive, coercive or controlling relationships, women living in rural areas and women who have childcare responsibilities who cannot access services in clinics.

Despite legal access to abortion in Great Britain, two women a day seek online help on abortion from Women on Web. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the medicines watchdog, has over three years seized almost 10,000 sets of abortion pills headed to British addresses.

The House will be pleased to know that there are no arguments about jurisdiction on repealing these provisions for England and Wales, and we are the competent body to do so. We have voted to decriminalise abortion on two recent occasions, 13 March 2017 and 23 October 2018, which alongside last week’s vote on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill clearly shows the will of this House that abortion should no longer be part of our criminal law but should be a regulated health decision between a woman and her doctor. I must stress again that decriminalisation does not mean deregulation, and a whole range of legal and professional regulation would still apply, just as it does to other healthcare procedures.

The situation in which we now find ourselves is unjust, irrational and confusing. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service released polling this morning showing that only 14% of people are aware of the current law and that 65% of British adults and 70% of women do not support the current criminal sanction.

Decriminalisation is supported by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Midwives, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, so I ask the Minister again. When will the Government act to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, and will there be a moratorium on any prosecutions under these sections in the meantime?