MPs vote to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales

Siobhan Fenton

MPs have voted to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales.

MPs have backed a bill by 172 votes in favour, versus 142 against.

The bill, which was introduced as a Ten-Minute rule bill, will now go to a second reading on 24th March, before it can be passed into law.

In 1967, the Abortion Act was passed which made terminations legal subject to doctors' approval and if a pregnant person can prove they meet predetermined criteria.

However, critics say the law does not go far enough as people who do not meet these conditions who have an abortion are committing a criminal offence.

It is thought the growing availability of online abortion pills is increasing the number of terminations women have in the UK, outside of official, licensed clinics.

In addition, women are committing an offence if they have a termination after the 24-week limit.

Labour MP Diana Johnson introduced the debate to the House of Commons, which calls for full decriminalisation. She told MPs: "There is no other medical procedure in this country is governed by legislation this old, this out of step with medical developments and public attitudes.

"Doctors are poorly served by a criminal framework which does not apply to other areas of medicine."

The bill is backed by the Royal College of Midwives and the British Pregnancy Advisory service.

However, anti-abortion groups say the move could result in more abortions taking place. They say it could result in abortions taking place at later dates, or gender selective abortions occurring.

Conservative MP Maria Caulfield opposed the bill, telling MPs they must protect "the rights of the unborn child". She told the chamber that decriminalisation could result in abortions being carried out at much later dates, or abusive partners coercing women into having non-consensual abortions, in the absence of criminal threat.

The bill only applies to England and Wales.

In Northern Ireland, abortion remains illegal under almost all circumstances, including rape and incest. A number of women have recently been prosecuted for having terminations or helping others to do so.

A woman is currently awaiting trial accused of helping her 15-year-old daughter 'commit' an abortion by enabling her to access abortion pills.

Last week, Northern Irish police carried out raids on women's homes looking for abortion pills.

In Scotland, abortion is a devolved issue falling within Holyrood's remit.

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