It may come as a surprise to some people to learn that abortion is still illegal in the UK.
Under Section 58, Offences Against the Person act (OAPA) 1861, a woman who ends her own pregnancy (and, under Section 59 of the same Act, a person who supplies her with the means to do so), can be sentenced to life imprisonment. This is one of the harshest penalties for unlawful abortion imposed by any country in Europe. No other medical procedure in the country is governed by legislation this old or this out-of-step with modern clinical developments.
The Abortion Act 1967 – which does not extend to Northern Ireland – was passed in response to the growing public health problem of illegal abortions. It does not decriminalise abortion, as is often thought, but instead carves out therapeutic exemptions to OAPA 1861, allowing abortions where women and doctors meet certain requirements. It places decision-making about abortion in the hands of doctors, rather than the pregnant woman.
Although the vast majority of women in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) are able to access abortion care, that care is compromised at many levels by current laws. You can read more about this on the We Trust Women website. In Northern Ireland, women can and do face prosecution for procuring abortion medication. In the rest of the UK, any woman who uses abortion medication purchased online, which is now readily available, risks life imprisonment.
We Trust Women asserts that women should be trusted to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies. The campaign calls for SS58 & 59 to be removed from OAPA, an Act passed before women even had the right to vote in this country.
Abortion is a devolved issue in Scotland, as well as Northern Ireland, so decisions would need to be taken separately in these regions, as well as in England and Wales. We Trust Women seeks to remove abortion from the criminal law across the UK.
The campaign is supported by a range of women’s rights groups, reproductive rights campaigners and professional bodies including the Royal College of Midwives, Women’s Aid, Fawcett Society, Maternity Action, the British Society of Abortion Care Providers, Birthrights, Lawyers for Choice, End Violence Against Women, Equality Now, IPPF European Network, Voice for Choice, Southall Black Sisters, Alliance for Choice NI and Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion.
How Can You Get Involved?
Through the website, you can write to your MP, MSP or MLA, using a template letter, asking them to show their trust for women by pushing for SS58 and 59 OAPA to be overturned. The link is here.