Georgia L Gilholy is a journalist.
As sure as night follows day, Labour MPs Diana Johnson and Stella Creasy have once again been attempting to hijack a Government bill with extreme abortion proposals under the guise of “women’s rights”.
Johnson’s amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, likely to be debated in late February or early March, would ensure there can be no criminal sanctions for a woman who has an abortion at any stage of pregnancy; by amending the abortion law in this way, women will, de facto, be able to administer their own abortions up to birth by acquiring pills through misleading abortion providers about their baby’s gestational age.
The other amendment, tabled by Creasy at Committee Stage of the Bill in December but not yet re-tabled at Report Stage, would also repeal Section 60 of the Offences Against the Person Act, which is currently used to make it illegal to hide the body of a dead new-born baby, including in circumstances when the baby has been killed through infanticide.
Section 60 also stops individuals from preventing an investigation into the cause of a baby’s death when foul play is suspected – indeed, Constance Marten and Mark Gordon were arrested for this precise offence.
It remains to be seen whether Creasy will reintroduce her radical amendment, although her dogged campaigning on the issue for the past decade suggests she is unlikely to give up the fight.
Both MPs argue that their proposed measures would liberate women from supposedly archaic laws and afford them greater autonomy over their bodies. Yet they ignore the inherent risks associated with self-induced abortions, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.
The evidence is clear: a recent Government review has revealed that abortion complication rates for medical abortions at 20 weeks and over are 160 times higher than complication rates for medical abortions at two to nine weeks gestation.
However, the data from 20 weeks and over is for medical abortions that occurred in a clinical setting, since medical abortion outside of this setting is not legal after ten weeks.
The complication rate for women who perform their own medical abortion outside of a clinical setting after 20 weeks, which would likely occur far more often if these amendments pass, is likely to be far higher than the rates when women are receiving in-person medical supervision.
Furthermore, the current legal framework acts as a deterrent against coerced abortions, shielding vulnerable women from the pernicious influence of partners or family members. Repealing laws against self-induced abortions would weaken this safeguard, since women could no longer appeal to their risk of being prosecuted if a partner encourages them to take abortion pills against their will.
These safeguards have already been weakened by the introduction of pills-by-post, which eliminated the requirement for women to have at least one in-person appointment before being given abortion pills.
This issue was played out in all its grim detail last year during the trial of Carla Foster, who pretended to be seven weeks pregnant but took abortion pills at 32-34 weeks gestation.
The existing legal framework also upholds the rights of the unborn, a fact too often overlooked in the fervour of the abortion debate. International human rights laws explicitly recognise the need for legal protection for the unborn, a principle enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Repealing laws against self-induced abortions would further erode these protections even after the point of viability in the womb.
All this aside, we know that public opinion resoundingly opposes the notion of abortion up to birth, with just one per cent of adults in Great Britain endorsing such extreme measures. The majority of the British population actually support reducing the time limit, with polling showing that 70 per cent of British women favour a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below.
While both Creasy and Johnson may claim that “decriminalisation does not mean deregulation”, and the current 24-week time limit would remain, such claims ignore the inevitable consequences of their amendments. Both clauses would erect an unprecedented legal landscape in which women are legally allowed to perform their own abortions via easily-available pills with no deterrent regardless of any flimsy “regulations” which may be officially introduced for abortion providers.
Creasy’s recent amendment contained no clear stipulation to include time limits or certain other important safeguards provided by the Act in any subsequent regulations. This omission is striking as the amendment does include the requirement for regulations to introduce new offences to charge third parties who force a woman to undergo an abortion, in order to replace current offences that would be repealed if abortion were completely decriminalised. Nor is any requirement to replicate the current legal time limit in these regulations has been included in the amendment.
Both amendments explicitly require implementation within a very short timeframe. It is entirely possible, even likely, that regulations could not be approved within that period, especially if they would require the agreement of both Houses as explicitly required by the Creasy amendment, meaning the law could change without necessary new regulations in place.
Even if regulations were introduced, they would languish in secondary legislation and so could easily be removed or amended at any time with limited parliamentary scrutiny.
In addition, we should be highly sceptical about any suggestions that amendments supported by the abortion lobby would be moderate in their effects. It has expressed a clear desire for the removal of all time limits.
In 2016, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the UK’s largest abortion provider, which has issued a press release in support of the Diana Johnson amendment, launched its ‘We Trust Women’ campaign, which explicitly stated its proposals would mean “the abortion time limit would be removed from criminal law”, called for the removal of doctors as well as women from the criminal law about abortion, and said that late-term abortions should be permitted since “women have terminations later in their pregnancy for very specific and very compelling reasons”.
MSI Reproductive Choices (Marie Stopes), which has also publicly backed the Johnson amendment, also supports the removal of clinicians as well as women from the criminal law when it comes to abortion at any gestation. In its position paper on the subject, it calls for decriminalisation which would “remove conditions and restrictions which stipulate acceptable reasons why an individual may end their own pregnancy”.
These amendments bear all the hallmarks of irresponsible activism, intent on pushing the expansion of abortion at all costs regardless of the real-world impact. Instead of once again burrowing down the rabbit hole of radical changes, parliamentarians should instead focus on pragmatic solutions, such as reinstating in-person medical appointments to ensure the safety and well-being of women seeking abortions.
The Government must stand firmly on the side of women’s safety, not to mention the rights of the unborn, and whip against any such amendments going forward.
In 2022 the Government failed to whip against the Labour amendment proposing censorship zones around abortion clinics. The consequences of this change – which is soon to be considered in Scotland also – has had dystopian consequences, including the arrest of a woman for silently praying.
Our society and legal system have a duty both to uphold the will of the people, and protect the most vulnerable in our society.