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MPs to debate bill that would decriminalise abortion

A pro-life campaigner holds a model of a foetus (Photo: PA)

Pro-life groups and MPs have expressed their dismay over a bill that would decriminalise abortion.

Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, has tabled a 10-minute bill to be read this month in which she proposes amendments to sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 which would decriminalise consensual abortions.

Johnson said the amendment would not remove the 24-week gestation limit or deregulate abortions but would allow professional medical bodies to oversee the practice rather than criminal law.

Backers of the bill say that they want to stop women who attempt abortions outside of the current time limit – or without approval from doctors – from being prosecuted.

In recent years two women have been jailed for inducing abortion with pills bought on the internet.

Sarah Catt received an eight-year sentence in 2012 for inducing an abortion in her 39th week of pregnancy – that is, only a week before she was due to give birth. Her sentence was later reduced to three-and-a-half years.

In 2015, Natalie Towers was handed a two-and-a-half year sentence after she ended a 32-week pregnancy by administering poison to procure a miscarriage.

Peter Williams, the Executive Officer at Right to Life, told the Catholic Herald that decriminalising abortion would not serve the interests of either women or unborn children.

He said: “The law currently serves the purpose of deterring women from causing their own miscarriage in a potentially dangerous manner. It also enables justice for when pregnant women are assaulted and their unborn babies are killed. When the law needs to show mercy for women who abort their own children in a callous way, legal experience has shown that it has the capacity to do so.

“Our abortion law is far from perfect, but insofar as it helps protect women and unborn children and yet has the flexibility to show lenience when this is appropriate, it has the balance just right.

“Parliament should reject this extreme measure, and consider instead humane proposals that would better recognise and respect the dignity and rights of every human being.”

Williams also warned that if abortion is taken out of criminal law altogether “this would affect abortion on demand, for any reason (including for example, for sex-selective purposes), up to birth.”

Pro-life group Not In Our Name – made up of pro-life midwives and backed by a number of MPs – has called for the public to oppose the bill, saying that the amendment of the law could lead to more women opting for abortion and pave the way for the legalisation of late-term abortion.

The organisation has called on pro-life supporters to write to their MPs to tell them to oppose the bill.

Christian Labour MP Rob Flello said: “Bringing this dangerous and radical proposal before Parliament is significant as it gives the impression that such an idea holds some sort of weight with the general population. It does not.”

Maria Caulfield, the Conservative MP for Lewes, added: “We are surprised and deeply concerned that such a radical proposal is being brought forward. To remove all legal restrictions on terminations would allow abortion at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason. What would stop the serious potential abuses?”

Abortion has been legal in most parts of Britain up to 24 weeks of pregnancy since the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967. All abortions must be signed off by two doctors before being performed.

The Catholic Herald has contacted Diana Johnson for comment.