Intended for healthcare professionals


Criminalised abortion in UK obstructs reflective choice and best care

BMJ 2018; 362 doi: (Published 09 July 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;362:k2928
  1. Sandy Goldbeck-Wood, editor1,
  2. Abigail Aiken, assistant professor2,
  3. David Horwell, advisory editor1,
  4. Oskari Heikinheimo, professor3,
  5. Ganesh Acharya, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology4,
  6. editorial board of BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health
  1. 1BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health, London, UK
  2. 2LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, USA
  3. 3Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Helsinki, Finland
  4. 4Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to: S Goldbeck-Wood goldbeckwood{at}

Theresa May could seize this opportunity for evidence based reform

The recent decisions to liberalise abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man1 have put pressure on the British prime minister, Theresa May, to consider decriminalising abortion in the UK. Although she believes “that a woman should be able to access safe, legal abortion,”2 she has not yet acted to initiate amendment of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act—perhaps in fear of Northern Ireland's anti-abortion Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), on which her minority government depends.

Senior DUP figures have threatened “consequences” if May were “foolish enough” to allow her Tory party a free vote on this sensitive question and made confident predictions that “the prime minister won’t want to touch this particular issue at the minute.”3 And certainly, those most affected by the criminal status of abortion in the UK are women in Northern Ireland, where abortion is prohibited even after rape or in the case of fatal fetal anomaly, and where women seek it under stigma and in fear of jail.4 However, the particular plight …

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