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Royal College of Nursing supports decriminalisation of abortion across the UK

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which represents over 435,000 nurses, midwives, and healthcare professionals, has changed its policy on abortion to officially support removing criminal sanctions against women seeking a consensual abortion.

Humanists UK, which campaigns to decriminalise abortion in the UK including Northern Ireland, has welcomed the updated policy which sends a strong signal that maintaining criminal sanctions against women wanting an abortion is not only a violation of their rights, but also out of step with current medical best practice.

This policy change came after it held a consultation of its members in which 73.7% favoured decriminalisation. Bronagh Scott, RCN Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice, said, ‘Nurses have signalled our support for the decriminalisation of termination of pregnancy legislation, as long as regulatory and quality monitoring processes are in place to protect the rights of women.’

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 Great 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.

Other medical bodies that support decriminalisation include the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘We’re delighted to see the Royal College of Nursing has voted 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.

‘The RCN’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 more about our campaign work on abortion and sexual and reproductive rights:

Read RCN’s policy on decriminalisation:

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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