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Liberal Democrat Conference votes to liberalise abortion laws

The Liberal Democrats have passed a motion at the party’s autumn conference in Brighton to support the removal of consensual abortion from criminal law, and instead have it governed through medical regulation like all other healthcare procedures. This would mean that women in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland who procure an abortion outside of the exceptional grounds allowed by the Abortion Act 1967 would not face criminal prosecution. Humanists UK, which campaigns for the realisation of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, welcomes the decision of the Liberal Democrat Party members to adopt this policy.

Christine Jardine MP said: ‘It is terrible that abortion is still treated as a criminal issue. No longer. Reproductive healthcare must be treated as a health issue… That question is more acute for women in Northern Ireland, who are subject to one of the most restrictive and punitive abortion regimes in the Western world. Theresa May cannot remain silent on this issue. The Supreme Court told her that abortion legislation in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights. As Prime Minister she has the responsibility to act, and she must.’

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, abortion is governed by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA), which specifies abortion is a crime punishable by life imprisonment. The 1967 Abortion Act creates exceptional circumstances in which safe and legal abortions can be obtained in England, Scotland, and Wales. However, it remains the case that if a woman has an abortion outside of these circumstances, or she lives in Northern Ireland where the 1967 Act does not apply, she will be committing a crime and could face prison.

The party also committed to introducing buffer zones around abortion clinics to prevent women accessing safe and legal medical services from being harassed and intimidated for doing so.

Humanists UK’s Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented,

‘We welcome the decision of the Liberal Democrats to adopt this policy. OAPA is a remnant of a Victorian justice system and is no longer fit for the purpose of regulating a medical procedure that one in three women in the UK will undergo at some point in their lives.’

Fifty years on from the Abortion Act 1967, there has been a growing call to take abortion procedures out of the criminal justice system. Polling of MPs views on this matter from 2017 suggests that most agree that women should not face criminal sanctions with only 16% believing that criminal law should be retained over medical regulation. Last year a private member’s bill to amend OAPA passed its first reading in Parliament.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan on rachel@humanism.org.uk or 07951 176 245.

Read polling data on MP’s views on the decriminalisation of abortion: https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/elhvsdm1iw/YG-Archive-150917-BPAS.pdf

Read more about Humanists Uk’s campaign work on abortion: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/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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