Around a third of women in the UK do not know how to get an abortion where they live, according to a new report.
Research carried out by YouGov and shared exclusively with The Independent found just one in four people understand how the law on abortion works in the UK.
The study, commissioned by Level Up, a feminist campaign group, discovered just over a third of people incorrectly assume abortion is always legal in the UK if you ask for it.
However, abortions are still deemed a criminal act in England, Scotland and Wales under the 1967 Abortion Act.
Legislation passed in 1861 means any woman who ends a pregnancy without getting legal permission from two doctors, who must agree that continuing with it would be risky for the woman’s physical or mental health, can face up to life imprisonment. Any medical professional who delivers an abortion out of the terms of the act can face criminal punishment.
Abortion providers, charities, medical bodies and MPs have spent years demanding that abortion is decriminalised in the UK.
The new report discovered almost half of the 2,200 people questioned at the end of last month would not confidently be able to tell a friend how to get an abortion in the UK.
Ikamara Larasi, a campaigner at Level Up, said: “We are the experts on our bodies and our lives. We should all have our healthcare needs met safely, and because abortion is healthcare, this includes equitable access to abortions.
“As a mother, I believe that people should be able to determine if, when and how they become parents, and should be able to access the care that they need throughout that journey without being criminalised. The UK needs to decriminalise abortion and provide it on request.”
Level Up has launched a campaign titled “abortion is healthcare” calling for pregnancy terminations to be decriminalised.
The campaign group states 52 women have been reported to police for possibly infringing the UK’s abortion laws since 2015. Level Up draws attention to the fact nearly all nations in Europe permit abortion on request.
Kerry Abel, chair of Abortion Rights, a UK campaign group, said: “One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime and it’s a safe and legal procedure.
“It’s not acceptable that abortion stigma is preventing the access to important healthcare in a timely manner. We’d like to see the NHS and the government respond, to explain how they will improve vital access to accurate and objective abortion information.”
The research comes after The Independent recently reported how women seeking abortions are having to travel hundreds of miles to access care, as “untenable” waiting times put unsustainable pressure on services.
Those seeking surgical and late-stage abortions in the UK are being forced to cross the country for care because of availability gaps in their area, while “messy” NHS systems are forcing private providers to turn women away, The Independent was told.
Commenting on the new polling, Victoria Kinkaid, of Doctors for Choice, an abortion rights campaign group comprised of doctors and other health professionals, said: “The results of this survey highlight a huge gap in public knowledge of abortion and the need for comprehensive relationships and sex education in schools that includes non-judgemental, practical information about abortion.
“Doctors for Choice UK train medical students to provide evidence-based teaching on abortion to secondary school students, including information about how those who need it can access abortion care.
“We believe that abortion is a basic human right, and that no one should be prosecuted for ending their own pregnancy. We strongly believe that abortion should be decriminalised in the UK and fully support Level Up’s campaign.“
A study carried out by YouGov and leading abortion provider MSI Reproductive Choices UK previously found nine in 10 UK adults think women should be able to access abortion services in Britain and specifically identify as being “pro-choice”.
UK abortion services have attracted increased scrutiny in the wake of the US Supreme Court dismantling Roe v Wade – the landmark decision that legalised abortion nationwide in 1973 – at the end of June.
Most of the US states who have rapidly curtailed abortion in the wake of Roe’s overturning have chosen not to allow pregnancy terminations in cases of rape or incest.