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Decriminalising abortion

A call for healthcare reform

Michael Nevill 9 May 2024

Most abortion services are nurse led, and following some high profile court cases, healthcare organisations and other royal colleges are calling for the decriminalisation of abortion across the UK. This blog outlines why decriminalisation is important and informs our members of the next steps.

In England, Wales, and Scotland, it remains a criminal offence for a woman to procure her own abortion without the approval of two doctors, as outlined by the Abortion Act of 1967. In Northern Ireland, abortion has been decriminalised, offering women the autonomy to make decisions about their pregnancies without the threat of prosecution.

Despite the legal framework in place, there are instances where women find themselves outside of these parameters, often in vulnerable situations and facing desperate circumstances. Instead of receiving support, some of these women have been subjected to criminalisation. 

An example of this occurred in England in June 2023 when a mother of three was sentenced to 28 months in prison for using abortion pills to terminate her pregnancy. The public outcry that followed, along with calls from professional organisations, led to her eventual release. However, other women still await trial for similar offences.

Prosecuting women for ending their own pregnancies is not in the public interest and that's why there's a growing movement from healthcare organisations and other Royal Colleges calling for the decriminalisation of abortion across the UK. This campaign aims to ensure that abortion is treated as a healthcare issue rather than a potential crime.

Decriminalisation would mean that abortion, like any other medical procedure, would only be subject to regulatory and professional standards. Abortion services would remain regulated, with healthcare staff accountable to their professional bodies along with the rights of conscientious objection continuing to be respected, with existing gestational limits for abortion maintained.

It's time to end the criminalisation of abortion and treat it as the healthcare issue it truly is. Therefore, please join me in advocating for change and standing up for women's rights to access safe abortion care, when, at Congress, I ask the RCN council, as the largest organisation representing Nurses, to join and support the call for the decriminalisation of abortion across the UK.

Michael Nevill

Michael Nevill

Women's Health Forum Committee Member

Clinical Director , NUPAS

Responsible for ensuring evidence based and compassionate clinical care is provided for the people seen at NUPAS.

Page last updated - 14/05/2024