Bill to decriminalise abortions passes first stage

A bill to decriminalise abortions fully has passed its first stage in the House of Commons.

Terminations are still technically a criminal offence in the UK but the move by Labour MP Diana Johnson would remove any legal restrictions.

The bill could remove current restrictions such as the need to see two doctors before having an abortion.Reuters

Her ten-minute rule bill, typically passed on the nod, faced a challenge in the Commons and unusually had to be voted through before it passes to the next stage.

The bill, a draft of which has yet to be published, was narrowly passed by 172 to 142 after Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes led the opposition.

It is highly unusual for a ten-minute rule bill to be voted on and a source told Christian Today campaigners behind the bill had arranged the vote to highlight their support.

But relatively few of the full 650 MPs voted with sources suggesting the bill was not taken seriously.

A cross-party coalition including Labour MP Harriet Harman, Green MP Caroline Johnson and Tory MP Michael Fabricant have added their names to the bill.

Diana Johnson MP's ten minute rule bill was passed by

But it is unlikely the bill will be heard again as it goes to the bottom of a pile of private-members bills waiting to be debated.

Johnson said the current law meant abortions still face the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. She said the increasingly availability of abortion pills for sale online meant women are 'more than ever before at risk of breaking the law'.

Referencing cases of a Muslim woman prohibited from leaving the house and a woman fearful of her husband's reaction, she said MPs should ask themselves 'if anyone of use really believe these women should be seen as criminals'.

But Caulfield opposed the bill and said 'far from being progressive it would be a charter for backstreet abortions'.

She called for a more modern understanding of abortion that 'not only upholds the dignity and rights of women but the dignity and rights of the unborn child'.

'This bill is a response to non-existence threat,' she said claiming there was a 'false premise' that women seeking abortions feared arrest.

'It would remove some of the few protections and regulations in abortion law fuelling unethical and unsafe abortion practice in the UK.'

She warned it could open the door to a free-for-all with women obtaining abortions because they didn't like the gender of their child or beyond the 24-week limit currently in place.

But Johnson denied her bill would mean an increase in late-term or sex selective abortions.

'Decriminalisation will not mean deregulation' she said earlier.

'Abortion will still be subject to a significant body of Parliamentary regulation and robust professional standards. The Bill does not intend to make it easier to access abortion after 24 weeks.

'Removing the counter-productive threat of criminal punishment against vulnerable women will help create an environment more conducive to reducing incidents of unplanned pregnancies and abortions - not least medically unsafe ones.'

CARE, a Christian charity who have campaigned against abortion, said it was important to see the vote in context.

'Controversial legislation needs to be subject to detailed parliamentary scrutiny and amendment which takes months if not years,' said head of policy Dan Boucher.

'What has happened today is that two MPs have spoken for 10 Minutes each to a Bill that doesn't even exist and then there has then been a vote which MPs know will not change any law.

'It may not be the outcome we would have hoped for but neither is it something to lose any sleep over. If there ever was a serious attempt to change the law - removing the practice of abortion from the protections and safeguards provided by the criminal law - we would expect a different outcome.'

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