Rise in Arrests for Illegal Late Abortions, Prompting Calls for Law Changes

Medical experts are calling for abortion law changes in Britain after research showed a significant rise in the number of women being arrested for having an abortion after the 24-week legal limit.

Rising Prosecutions for Illegal Abortions in the UK

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Recent data from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) indicated a significant increase in the number of prosecutions for illegal abortions in the UK.

Historical Context

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Between 1967 and 2022, only three women were convicted of illegal abortions in England and Wales, but something has sparked this relatively low figure to double in volume in recent times.

UK’s Stance on Illegal Abortions

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According to the data, in the past 18 months alone, six women faced prosecution, but three cases were dropped and only one woman served a prison sentence as a result. 

Abortion Act Explained

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While the Abortion Act of 1967 partially decriminalised abortion in England, Scotland, and Wales, certain provisions from the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act still apply.

Decriminalisation on the Horizon

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As MPs prepare to vote on an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that could decriminalise pregnancy terminations in England and Wales, the surge in prosecutions further fuels the debate. 

Women Face Prison As Current Laws Are Debated

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The current laws criminalise abortions performed after the 24-week legal limit.

As a result, women who terminate pregnancies beyond this limit find themselves facing criminal investigations and potential imprisonment.

Doctor Calls for Change

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Dr Ranee Thakar, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, called the current abortion laws “outdated” arguing that a “small but increasing number of women are being prosecuted.”

Health Professionals at Risk

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Dr Thakar revealed that it’s not just women who face the possibility of prosecution under the current system, arguing that “health professionals are placed under unacceptable and unwarranted scrutiny.”

Case of Terminated Pregnancy in Southampton

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One case involved a woman who was left with no choice but to terminate her own pregnancy in a woodland area of Southampton after she was denied a safe abortion in the clinic for being over the legal period.

Police Urge Clinic for Classified Names

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The police asked for the names of every woman at the time who was refused an abortion in the clinic, but Claire Murphy, the chief executive of BPAS, argued, “That was potentially hundreds of women.”

Duty of Care Noted

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According to Murphy, “We owe our clients a duty of confidentiality. If this is information you want, you’ll have to get a court order.”

Criminal Investigations

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Dr Jonathan Lord, the co-chair of the British Society of Abortion Care Providers, revealed that at least 60 criminal inquiries into suspected illegal abortions have occurred since 2018.

Society’s Stigma

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Lord argued that “Just being accused is life-changing,” let alone being sentenced, revealing that people have been “hard-wired” by society “to feel shame and stigma” after a late abortion.

Lord Urges for Compassion 

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Lord urged for more compassion, stating that it’s hard enough for a woman to experience the trauma of losing a healthy baby, “To then get called in by the police and interviewed under caution on suspicion of murder.”

At Home Abortion Case

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In May 2020, one woman was prescribed mifepristone for a planned abortion that would eventually see her have a stillbirth at home. The only issue is she was passed the 24-week limit.

Sentencing Outrage 

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After her stillbirth at home, she was sentenced to 14 months in prison, reduced from 28 months after medical professionals were outraged and an appeal judge argued the case should be based on “compassion, not punishment.”

BPAS’s Insight Into Criminal Inquiries

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BPAS reported dozens of police requests for confidential records since 2020, showing the intense scrutiny faced by women seeking abortion services.

Government Data on Recorded Crimes

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Home Office data revealed a rise in recorded crimes related to abortion, increasing from 18 cases in 2020 to 29 in 2022.

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