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UK Parliament votes narrowly in favour of new abortion Bill

The Houses of Parliament, where the new abortion Bill was first debated today. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

A new Bill which seeks to repeal existing abortion legislation has proceeded to the next stage after debate in the Commons.

The proposed law, introduced by Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, would decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks. Instead of abortion being technically illegal without medics’ permission, there would be no criminal sanctions. Abortion providers would be regulated by professional bodies.

The British Pregnancy Abortion Service (BPAS) which provides abortions, supports the Bill.

Despite opposition from Catholic charities and other MPs, the Commons voted in favour, (174 Ayes, 142 Noes), and the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill will progress to its first reading on 24th March.

Conservative MP Maria Caulfield MP spoke against the Bill in the Commons debate. “This Bill is a response to a non-existent threat; it would exacerbate the dangers posed by any increase in the availability of abortion pills,” she said. “It would remove some of the few protections and regulations in abortion law – fuelling unethical and unsafe practices in many UK abortion clinics, and leaving women less safe and less informed.”

Reflecting on the vote outcome, Labour’s Rob Flello said: “It is shocking that MPs voted narrowly in favour of an extreme proposal, backed by the disgraced private abortion industry who would financially benefit from easier access to their core service.”

Anne Scanlan, education director at the pro-life charity Life, said: “Ms Johnson’s position that there is no need for legal restrictions on abortion because of the presence of other parliamentary regulation and professional standards is clearly nonsense when one looks at the history of abuses in the abortion industry.”

The Bill was put forward under the Ten Minute Rule, where backbench MPs can raise a motion in a speech that does not exceed ten minutes. Few Bills introduced this way become law, although the Abortion Act 1967 proved to be an exception.

This article has been amended. A previous version said that the limit would be 28 weeks.