A new campaign is calling for abortion to be taken out of criminal law, arguing that no woman should face prison for inducing a miscarriage, and no doctor should be prosecuted for providing safe abortion care to a woman who requests it.
Currently in England and Wales, there are clauses in the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act that make having or providing an abortion a crime carrying a potential life sentence. The new We Trust Women campaign argues that those laws were enacted in Victorian times, before women even had the right to vote, and are woefully unfit for our times and women’s lives. They are calling for the removal of those laws in England and Wales, and in the equivalent common law in Scotland.
Of course in Northern Ireland, the act of abortion is still illegal under almost every circumstance, which means that women are forced to travel (if they can afford it) or administer abortions themselves. Two women are currently facing prosecution in Northern Ireland – one woman bought pills to induce an abortion for her daughter, while another brought about her own abortion.
Although abortion is free, safe and legal in the UK, except for Northern Ireland, some women resort to buying pills online or attempting to induce abortion themselves. These women might fear the stigma of abortion, or be young and in vulnerable positions, hiding their pregnancies from their partners or families. In December 2015, a 23-year-old woman from Durham, who had a history of emotional and psychological problems, was sent to prison for using abortion medication bought online to induce a miscarriage in the third trimester.
We Trust Women argues that women should never face prosecution for inducing miscarriage. Diane Munday, the former general secretary of the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA), offered her support, saying: “In 2016, it is time for Britain to catch up and to acknowledge that women know what is best for themselves and their families.” Abortion has been decriminalised in Canada and Australia.