Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Briefing

Decriminalisation of abortion

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 23 March 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j1485
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent, The BMJ
  1. claredyer4{at}

Campaigners want repeal of UK law under which women can be jailed for abortion even in early pregnancy, writes Clare Dyer

In the year that sees the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967, which created a framework for legal termination, campaigners argue that the time has come for abortion to be decriminalised in England and Wales. A coalition of 20 organisations, We Trust Women, says that women who choose abortion should no longer risk life imprisonment under a law dating back to the Victorian era, when only men could vote.1 The organisations include the Royal College of Midwives and Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion. The BMA has no policy on decriminalisation but set out possible options in a recent discussion paper.2

What is the law in England and Wales?

Abortion is a crime under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. The Abortion Act creates an exception, making abortion on licensed premises lawful under specific conditions. When two doctors agree that continuing the pregnancy is a greater risk than the abortion to the life or health of …

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