Abortion Rights

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2019 National Women's Conference
19 October 2018

Conference applauds the historic landslide vote by the people of Southern Ireland to repeal the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution and recognises the huge victory for a women’s right to choose both in the South but also as a beacon of hope for all women wherever they live who are still fighting for access to free safe abortions.

Conference notes:

1)In Britain the1967 Abortion Act gave women access to abortion but only under specific grounds and if signed off by two doctors, and that the Offences against the Person Act 1861 which made abortion a criminal offense is still on the statute book. The 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland.

2)Today medical advancements mean that women can safely access abortion by taking two pills. This regimen is now on the World Health Organisation Essential medicines list for safe abortion. Abortion care therefore no longer needs to be carried out in a clinical setting and this is reflected in home becoming the place the second abortion pill can be taken under the Abortion Act in Scotland, Wales and England.

3)However whilst the way women can access abortion has changed, the criminal law remains. Within the current criminal law a woman in Britain could face 12 years in prison for using abortion pills she has purchased online. A doctor could face 12 years in prison for providing safe abortion care without a second doctor’s approval. A nurse could face 12 years in prison for providing medical abortion on their best clinical judgement without the legal grounds first being signed off by two doctors. In Northern Ireland the penalty is life imprisonment for the woman undergoing an illegal abortion and for anyone assisting her. These criminal sanctions are completely unnecessary for highly regulated UK healthcare such as abortion. Trapped within the legal framework of criminal law, abortion care is being regarded unlike any other medical procedure available in the UK today. By situating abortion in criminal law with the need for two doctors to sign off legal grounds, rather than being situated wholly within medical regulation, we are saying to abortion care professionals – particularly to nursing staff – that we don’t trust their individual clinical judgement or competence. No other healthcare professionals are made to work within these limits.

4)Medical organisations in favour of decriminalisation include: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing.

5)Parliamentary groups are also in favour of decriminalisation of abortion. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Population and Development has called for the complete decriminalisation throughout the UK

6)In 2017 a majority in the House of Commons were in favour of decriminalising abortion in England and Wales with MP’s across all political parties voting to pass Diana Johnson MP’s Reproductive Health Access to Termination bill through its first reading.

Conference believes:

1)There is a solution to all the issues highlighted above, which is to decriminalise abortion. Healthcare regulation will always and should always stand. But the only thing being achieved by the current law is to restrict and stigmatise both women who request an abortion and the healthcare professionals who provide that care in good faith.

2)Decriminalisation would mean that abortion services are regulated in the same way as other medical practices. We need to allow doctors and nurses to deliver best practice without fear of being criminalised. For women decriminalisation would mean empowering them to make their own informed healthcare choices and access to them. Women would no longer have their bodies ruled over by a law enacted when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

3)There is already a wide consensus on this issue. Now we all need to come together to decriminalise abortion for women in the UK.

Conference calls for:

1)National Women’s Committee to use their structures within our union to ensure members are kept up to date with the campaign for decriminalisation.

2)National Women’s Committee to publicise Abortion Rights Campaign and encourage branches to affiliate, in line with national policy.

Encouraging members to write to their MP’s in support of decriminalisation of abortion.