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MSI comment on woman sentenced for ending her own pregnancy

Decriminalisation of abortion care  •  13 June 2023  • 4 min read

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London, 13th June 2023

On 12th June 2023, in a rare and distressing case, a woman was sentenced for ending her own pregnancy outside the narrow parameters of the Abortion Act 1967. The Act makes abortion legal under certain specific circumstances. 

We condemn this sentence. We do not believe it is ever in the public interest to prosecute anyone for ending their own pregnancy, and we believe abortion should be decriminalised.

Dr Sarah Salkeld, Associate Clinical Director at MSI Reproductive Choices UK, said:

“This has been an incredibly distressing case for everyone involved. It is neither a compassionate nor a proportionate response to send someone to prison for ending their pregnancy. Nor is it in the public interest.

The fact this came to court could have repercussions for those who find themselves in unimaginably difficult situations, including unexplained pregnancy loss.”

We believe that criminal law has no place in abortion care 

The case has shone a light on Britain’s outdated Victorian laws, which mean that abortion is still criminalised under certain circumstances.

In Northern Ireland, abortion was decriminalised following a Westminster vote in 2019, yet in the rest of the UK it remains within criminal law. That means an abortion is only legal if your reason for having one meets the criteria set out in the 1967 Abortion Act. If someone accesses an abortion outside of these parameters, they could face police investigation, prosecution, or even jail. 

We believe that across the whole of the UK, abortion should sit outside criminal law.

Abortion is healthcare, and healthcare is recognised as a human right. One in three women in the UK will have an abortion by the time she’s 45. It is also one of the most common gynaecological procedures provided by the NHS.

Yet it is still governed by a law from 1861, at a time when healthcare and society were completely different. Women couldn’t vote. It was 68 years before penicillin was discovered. Abortion pills would not be invented for over a century.

Decriminalisation does not mean deregulation 

We believe that abortion care should be regulated the same way that any other comparable form of healthcare would be. In fact, despite being extremely safe and extremely common, abortion is one of the most heavily regulated areas of healthcare available – and none of that need change with decriminalisation.  

What would change is the rare but highly distressing occurrence of incidents in which women have faced criminal investigation, or even prison, for ending their own pregnancies. Abortion is a personal choice, and it is a medical service. Criminal law has no part to play in assessing who should or should not be denied access.

Medical professionals, human rights organisations and women’s rights advocates agree that now is the time to bring our laws in line with modern medicine.

Read more

How can you support the decriminalisation of abortion care in Great Britain? 

  • Ask your MP to vote in favour of decriminalising abortion: You can help by writing to your MP and asking them to vote in favour of decriminalising abortion, any time there’s an opportunity to do so in the House of Commons. To find your local MP, click here: Find Your MP.
  • Share this blog and spread the word: Help us spread the word about the need to decriminalise abortion in Great Britain by sharing this blog with your friends and family.

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