Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

Abortion Decriminalisation: Ten Minute Rule Bill tabled

The following Ten Minute Rule Bill has been tabled by Diana Johnson MP for 13th March 2017:

“Abortion (Decriminalisation): Ten Minute Rule Bill That leave be given to bring in a bill to amend sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 to decriminalise consensual abortions; and for connected purposes.”

What Does This Mean: In 2016, a woman who ends her own pregnancy without the permission of 2 doctors can be sentenced to life in prison under legislation dating back to Victorian times. This bill would decriminalise abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy through the removal of sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

The Current Law: Sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA) made having or providing an abortion, a crime carrying a potential life sentence. This piece of Victorian legislation, passed before women even had the right to vote, is still in force today. In line with the punitive values of mid-Victorian Britain, it calls for one of the harshest penalties for unlawful abortion imposed by any country in Europe. Only Ireland, with a maximum 14-year prison term, currently demands a similarly onerous punishment. No other medical procedure in the country is governed by legislation this old, or this out- of-step with clinical developments and the moral thinking of the modern world.

Many People Don’t Realise That… if a woman does not adhere to the strict guidelines set out by the 1967 Abortion Act (for example, ordering abortion pills online and self-administering them at home) she can potentially be imprisoned under the OAPA. We must emphasise that the OAPA was conceived whilst Queen Victoria was still on the throne and that women did not yet have the right to vote – and yet it still underpins the reproductive rights of women today and potentially future generations to come.

What You Can Do: Please use the tool below (scroll to find the box to enter your postcode) to send a letter to your MP about attending the hearing of the bill (this will only take a couple of minutes). Use Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media to spread the message using the hashtag #WeTrustWomen. Tell your friends, family members, neighbours, colleagues, even pets (ok maybe not pets) to do the same. These are all key steps in the fight decriminalise abortion and for full, legal reproductive rights.

Find out more here.