Pending or current criminal prosecutions should also be suspended, say doctors
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) have published a policy statement renewing calls for the UK Government to decriminalise abortion in the UK.
This comes at a time when at least two women are currently facing prosecution in England for ending their own pregnancies. We have joined with more than 50 women’s rights organisations, legal experts, abortion care providers and others, to write to the Director for Public Prosecutions to stress that these prosecutions are not in the public interest.
Abortion services in the UK remain subject to legal requirements and criminal sanctions. Although the 1967 Abortion Act legalises terminations in England, Wales and Scotland up to 24 weeks, the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act was never repealed.
Currently, this legislation means that any woman who has an unregulated abortion or tries to terminate their pregnancy without supervision from medics is acting unlawfully and can face up to life imprisonment.
It also has implications for women who have experienced unexplained pregnancy loss, some of whom have been suspected of criminal activity and subject to criminal investigation. While it is rare for these cases to come to court, there have been dozens of police investigations into suspected breaches of the law in the past 10 years.
The provision of medical and surgical abortion in the UK is already highly regulated and decriminalising abortion does not mean deregulation. If legislation is amended so that abortion is no longer a criminal offence in the UK, strict legal, regulatory and professional controls would apply in the same way as other medical procedures – for example around the sale and supply of abortion medications and only registered and licensed medical practitioners with appropriate training able to legally perform surgical abortions.
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:
“Abortion care is an essential part of sexual and reproductive healthcare and the decision to have an abortion should be entirely up to the individual, without fear of prosecution.
“Women who may face charges are often in desperate or vulnerable situations, and the current legislation may further deter them from seeking the support and aftercare they need. It is our belief that prosecuting a woman for ending their pregnancy will never be in the public interest.
“To ensure that all women and girls are provided with support without fear of prosecution, abortion must be decriminalised, while remaining subject to the regulatory and professional standards of all other medical procedures.
“The removal of this law would also protect anyone who has experienced a pregnancy loss of being suspected or investigated for any criminal activity. Both of these are healthcare issues that need to be treated compassionately and without judgement.
“Decriminalising abortion is an act to protect the reproductive rights of women and girls, and prevent causing further harm through cruel investigations.”
Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), said:
“All women should be able to access abortion services easily and without fear of penalty or harassment. Decriminalising abortion will help to remove stigma, remove fear and reiterate to women that they have the right to control their own sexual and reproductive health choices.
“Abortion care is highly regulated and should solely be subject to appropriate professional standards in line with any other healthcare procedures, not criminal sanctions.”
For media enquiries please contact the RCOG press office on +44 (0)7740 175342 or email email@example.com.
Notes to editors
- Read to full statement.