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Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists backs decriminalisation of abortion across the UK

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has voted strongly in favour of taking abortion out of criminal law right across the UK. Currently, under an 1861 law, if women have an abortion outside of circumstances that are legally permitted, they can face up to life imprisonment. In Britain, this means failing to comply with the Abortion Act 1967, which could include on the procedural grounds of requiring two doctors to approve a termination before it can take place. In Northern Ireland, this means having an abortion on almost any ground, even in the cases of rape and fatal foetal abnormality.

Humanists UK, which is part of the We Trust Women Coalition campaigning to decriminalise abortion, has welcomed RCOGs decision.

RCOG’s policy now states:

We believe that the procedure should be subject to regulatory and professional standards, in line with other medical procedures, rather than criminal sanctions.

Abortion services should be regulated; however, abortion – for women, doctors and other healthcare professionals – should be treated as a medical, rather than a criminal issue.

The College is not calling for any change in gestational limits for abortion which should remain in place through the appropriate regulatory and legislative process.

In June, members of the British Medical Association also voted to change its policy to back decriminalisation, and the Royal College of Midwives adopted the same position in February 2016.

There are presently two court cases going on in Northern Ireland concerning its abortion laws. One, being taken against the Government by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and due to be heard before the UK Supreme Court next month, focuses on the illegality of abortion there in the cases of rape, incest, and fatal foetal abnormality. A third case was narrowly lost before the Supreme Court back in June, that focused on Northern Ireland women being charged to have an abortion on the NHS in Britain. That decision led to such an uproar that the UK, Scottish, and Welsh Governments all subsequently decided to introduce the service anyway. However, it still doesn’t mean that Northern Ireland women can access abortion services in Northern Ireland itself.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We’re delighted to see the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists vote to back the decriminalisation of abortion across the UK. While of course there should be regulations around abortion as a procedure, these should be no different from those of any other medical procedure, none of which involve specific criminal sanctions. Women should not face jail time for failing to follow those regulations. This is especially egregious in Northern Ireland, where countless women’s basic dignity is being violated by the lack of availability of abortion there.

‘RCOG’s move reflects the growing consensus that the law urgently needs updating, and we hope that politicians are listening to the increasing clamour for change.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 0781 55 89 636.

Read RCOG’s statement on its new policy:

Read more about the We Trust Women coalition:

Read more about our campaign work on abortion and sexual and reproductive rights:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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