Skip to main content

Call to decriminalise abortion in UK

In an editorial in The BMJ, published today, editor in chief of BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, Sandy Goldbeck-Wood, on behalf of her editorial board colleagues, calls on British premier, Theresa May, to decriminalise abortion in the UK.   This follows the recent decisions to liberalise abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Abortion law in UK

The UK 1967 Abortion Act was introduced to provide a legal defence against the criminal law passed in 1861,  but the Offences Against the Person Act remains on the statute book.

The women of Northern Ireland are the most vulnerable to this 150 years old, anachronistic piece of Victorian criminal law,  because under the law in the Province allows for no defence,  even in cases of rape or fatal fetal abnormalities. As a result, women who have an abortion in Northern Ireland still  face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The UK government has argued that this is a matter for the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly, but currently these powers are being exercised from Westminster whilst the Assembly is suspended.

It is time that access to termination under the law to be made uniform for all United Kingdom citizens.

Four key arguments are presented.  First, whether or not it is legal, abortion is widespread.  Women are accessing medical abortion on-line despite the risks of prosecution.  Secondly, contrary to original concerns, decriminalisation does not increase abortion rates.  Thirdly,  criminalisation impedes safety.  Finally, they argue that the UK is out of step with the rest of Europe. 

Law obstructs best clinical practice

Perhaps the key argument the editorial presents  is that the law obstructs best clinical practice and undermines reflective decision-making across the whole of the UK and is no longer appropriate.

Instead they suggest: “Future UK law could support conscientious reflection in abortion care more effectively by guaranteeing women access to the resources they need to make the ethical and practical choices which are theirs to make and live with.”

Resources currently used to police choice and access could be reallocated to offering counselling services to women who are unsure about whether to terminate their pregnancy or who face a wider life crisis, and ensuring they get prompt access to contraception.

There widespread public and cross-party parliamentary support for decriminalisation in the UK,  including in Northern Ireland.

UK government held to ransom by reliance on DUP support

However, the editorial acknowledges that Theresa May’s slim parliamentary majority depends on the support of Democratic and Unionist Party (DUP) MPs, who have threatened “consequences” if Mrs May were to offer her party a free vote on the matter.

Nevertheless, the editorial calls on the prime minister to "seize the moment" to “champion evidence based reform of an outdated, ineffective and unpopular law, with the backing of health professionals and public opinion in Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

Act of political courage 

As the authors say: “To do so, despite the threats against her, would be a memorable act of courage and leadership.”

Report by: Ray Noble

Subscribe to The Thin End


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The lion and the wildebeest

Birds flock, fish school, bees swarm, but social being is more than simply sticking together.  Social groups enable specialisation and a sharing of abilities, and enhances ability, learning and creating new tricks. The more a group works together, the more effective they become as a team.  Chimpanzees learn from each other how to use stones to crack nuts, or sticks to get termites.  All around us we see cooperation and learning in nature.  Nature is inherently creative.  Pulling together becomes a rallying cry during a crisis.  We have heard it throughout the coronavirus pandemic.  "We are all in this together", a mantra that encourages people to adopt a common strategy. In an era of 'self-interest' and 'survival of the fittest,'  and 'selfish gene', we lose sight of the obvious conclusion from the evidence all around us.   Sticking together is more often the better approach.  This is valid for the lion as it is also for the wildebeest.   We don't

Noise pollution puts nature at risk

 "I just want a bit of peace and quiet!" Let's get away from all the hustle and bustle; the sound of endless traffic on the roads, of the trains on the railway, and the planes in the sky; the incessant drone; the noise. We live in a world of man-made noise; screeching, bellowing, on-and-on in an unmelodious cacophony.  This constant background noise has now become a significant health hazard.   With average background levels of 60 decibels, those who live in cities are often exposed to noise over 85 decibels, enough to cause significant hearing loss over time.  It causes stress, high blood pressure, headache and loss of sleep and poor health and well-being.   In nature, noise has content and significance.  From the roar of the lion, the laughing of a hyena,  communication is essential for life; as the warning of danger, for bonding as a group or a pair, finding a mate, or for establishing a position in a hierarchy - chattering works.  Staying in touch is vital to working

Therapeutic animal stress

Interacting with animals is known to be therapeutic,  particularly in reducing stress.  But do we consider sufficiently the effects this may have on the animals involved?   We might assume that because it is calming for us, then it must be so for the therapeutic animals, but is this so?  New research suggests that it isn't always without stress for the animals involved.  Positive human-animal interaction relates to changes in physiological variables both in humans and other animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain.  It also reduces the 'stress' hormone, cortisol. Indeed, these biological responses have measurable clinical benefits.  Oxytocin has long been implicated in maternal bonding, sexual behaviour and social affiliation behaviours and in promoting a sense of well-being .  So far, so good.  We humans often turn to animals for stress relief, companionship, and even therapy.  We kno