Abortion decriminalisation is a real threat

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One of the biggest changes to abortion law for 50 years could be about to happen.

In a few weeks' time, politicians at Westminster could well be asked to vote on one of the biggest change to abortion law in England and Wales since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967.

At least one amendment to this end has been tabled to the UK Government's Criminal Justice Bill. The aim of this amendment is to remove criminal penalties for women regardless of the gestation of the pregnancy.

It is important to be as clear as possible about what this would mean. Firstly, you need to know that the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act makes it illegal to provide an abortion and to get one.

What the 1967 Abortion Act did was set out a range of exemptions to this legislation. Under the '67 Act, abortion is legal under five possible grounds. Most abortions take place pre-10 weeks, with an upper-limit of 24 weeks. An abortion may be granted in cases of serious handicap up to birth.

The situation has been further complicated by the expansion of the abortion pills-by-post scheme. This was initially a temporary measure passed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Women were allowed to take two powerful abortion pills at home, provided they were under 10 weeks pregnant. That policy has become permanent.

In recent months, you may well have picked up on media reports highlighting difficult cases and instances where women have faced prosecution and investigation for various offences in relation to abortion law. For example, Carla Foster was initially sent to prison for procuring a home abortion after the 10 week limit. Her sentence was reduced subsequently on appeal, allowing her to return home.

These cases have prompted campaigners to re-issue calls for abortion to be 'decriminalised'. They argue that no woman should face prosecution, or even the prospect of prosecution for getting what they see as purely a medical procedure.

Calls for abortion to be decriminalised have been backed by various official medical bodies and of course by abortion providers as well.

If all this sounds reasonable to you, it is worth stopping and considering this in more detail.

Some of these cases were the police investigating women who had experienced miscarriages. The cases should have been handled sensitively and quickly.

Others of these cases have arisen since the pills-by-post scheme where women have been sent abortion pills without a gestation check. Abortion providers should be required to see a woman in person before prescribing abortion pills.

Furthermore, the UK already has one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world. Our 24-week time limit is twice the European average of 12 weeks. It is also past the point of known viability, with babies born at 22 weeks surviving outside the womb. The overall number of abortions has simply increased and increased and the latest data shows that between January and June 2022, more than 120,000 abortions took place in England and Wales. This is up 17 per cent on the same period the previous year.

The current law still sends a message, however limited, that at some point, a preborn baby's life is worthy of protection. At the moment, that point is 24 weeks in most instances.

I think that is a message the law needs to send. This is not about wanting lots and lots of women to be criminalised. But it is about being honest to say that abortion is not simply another medical procedure.

An abortion involves two lives. And the Christian worldview does not distinguish between these lives in terms of dignity and value. We reject personhood theory, which creates an arbitrary point at which a 'fetus' becomes a person and therefore worthy of protection.

Instead, we celebrate the fact that life begins at conception. We rejoice that when human life begins, a person comes into being. We want to protect that person and protect the life of the Mum as well.

I know evangelical Christians are sometimes accused of only contacting their MP about issues like abortion or conversion practices. I would encourage you, strongly, to write about a range of justice issues, from immigration, to cost of living, to gambling related harms. I do appreciate the burden of this concern. As Christians, we should be wise in how we engage.

And yet, surely we also have a Christian duty to speak out on topics and causes where very few others are engaging? Is this not part of speaking God's better story to a broken world? Is this not also part of our God-given responsibility? With a graciously and wise tone, I urge you then to contact your MP and ask them, if there is a vote, to reject the abortion amendment that could see our laws further liberalised.

James Mildred is Director of Communications and Engagement at CARE. You can contact your MP about the issue raised in this article via CARE's website.