MPs in Westminster launched a bid to introduce a bill which would decriminalise abortion later this month. Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Hull North, announced her intention to introduce this bill. A coalition of MPs from five different parties is co-sponsoring her. This 10-Minute Rule Bill, which should appear on 23rd October, would remove abortion from criminal law and treat it as similar to any other medical procedure. Ms Johnson intends that this would allow it to be regulated “in the same way as all other routine medical procedures,”.
Members of Amnesty International, FPA, and BPAS, along with Professor Sally Sheldon and Gordon Nardell QC, assisted Ms Johnson in drafting this bill. The bill would not change time limits on abortion in England or Wales, nor would it remove the rights of medical practitioners to opt out of providing abortion services. It would create a new offence of using violence or the threat of violence to cause someone to have a non-consensual abortion. It would also effectively remove any criminality surrounding abortion in Northern Ireland. If the bill passes then the Northern Ireland Assembly would have to construct a viable legal framework after devolution is restored. Ms Johnson remarked that ‘In Northern Ireland, prosecutions [on women who get abortions] are a reality and this cannot continue. It’s time for a change.’ This move follows a recent Northern Ireland Supreme Court judgment which suggested that the abortion laws of Northern Ireland may be incompatible with human rights laws.
MPs and supporters of the bill gathered in Parliament Square also. At the same time, a poll by Amnesty International propagated that 78% of British people are in favour of decriminalisation and 65% of Northern Irish adults believe abortion should not be a crime. However, John Deighan of Society for the Protection of Unborn Children expressed the opposite view, stating that this ‘extreme’ bill would put ‘vulnerable women in danger.’
By Daniel Forde – Law Editor