A charity has warned that Britain’s anti-abortion laws are being used against women who have had an unexplained pregnancy loss.
At least 17 women have been investigated by police in England and Wales over the past eight years for illegal or attempted terminations of pregnancy, NationalWorld is able to reveal.
The US Supreme Court’s move to end universal abortion rights across the country puts reproductive rights in the UK back into the limelight.
A leading charity and abortion provider warns that UK laws are already being used to criminalize women who miscarry.
The news from America should now encourage anti-abortion activists at home, they added.
Abortion is illegal in England and Wales under the Offenses Against the Person Act, a Victorian law passed in 1861 – before women had the right to vote – which carries a life sentence for those who terminate their own pregnancy.
The 1967 Abortion Act introduced limited exceptions, allowing a woman to terminate a pregnancy up to 24 weeks in – but didn’t repeal the earlier law.
According to the rules, abortions can be performed only if:
- the health of a woman or her children is at risk, and
- two doctors sign the procedure, and
- it is being carried out on approved premises (although temporary access to home abortion pills for early-stage pregnancies introduced during Covid has now been made permanent in England and Wales)
Women can also have an abortion if there is a significant risk that the baby will be severely disabled mentally or physically.
Home Office data obtained by NationalWorld through the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act shows that at least 17 (and possibly up to 29) female suspects were the subject of police investigations under the 1861 Act between March 2014 and December 2021.
This means that the alleged abortion or attempted abortion fell outside the scope of exceptions to the Abortion Act 1967 and became a criminal matter. The figures only include cases in which the police have officially registered a criminal offence. Incidents that never reached this threshold may not be considered.
The majority (14) were investigated for an abortion, while three were investigated for suspicion of acquiring materials to be used in a case, such as B. Drugs. It is not known whether the women requested abortions for themselves or for someone else – for example, mothers acting on behalf of daughters.
The actual number of cases could be even higher as nine out of 44 police forces were unable to provide data for the full period.
In 21 of the 51 crimes recorded (13 male suspects), the police forces also failed to record the suspect’s sex.
The number of cases involving women would rise to 29 if the cases where the sex was unknown had the same male/female split as the cases where it was known.
Only two of the 17 known women have been charged or warned of a criminal offense, although two cases from 2021 remain pending with no outcome assigned.
dr Jonathan Lord, an NHS gynecologist and medical director of charity and abortion provider MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly known as Marie Stopes), said it’s often women “at the really desperate end of the spectrum” who might try to source illegal abortions.
This includes those in forced relationships who are forced by a partner to continue a pregnancy against their will.
“It certainly shouldn’t be the women in this situation who are being criminalized and possibly imprisoned for life,” he said. “They are victims.”
Police were also investigating another 15 women for the crime of “willful destruction of a viable unborn child,” a crime under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, the FOI data shows.
The crime includes pregnancies of at least 28 weeks, at which point 1920s legislatures considered a fetus born alive.
While these may include abortions, they can also cover cases where a suspected woman attacks a pregnant woman and kills the unborn child. There is no breakdown.
There were also recorded 28 of these crimes involving male suspects and 36 involving a suspect of unknown gender. Again, if the same proportion of unknown sex cases involve women, the number of female suspects could rise to 28.
Several medical bodies have joined calls for abortion to be decriminalized in recent years, including the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the British Medical Association.
Such groups and other activists want the issue removed from the criminal sphere and instead governed by medical regulatory frameworks.
dr Lord said he didn’t think people realized “my body, my choice” doesn’t apply when it comes to abortion in the UK.
“The woman herself has no say,” he said. “From a legal point of view, if two doctors agree, that’s the best way for them [to have an abortion].
“It is totally inconsistent with modern medical practice, which depends on a patient having information to make an informed choice and having autonomy in making that decision.”
The campaign group We Trust Women – made up of a range of charities, political parties, unions and medical bodies – argues that the restrictions in the 1967 Abortion Act limit the quality of care and prevent a switch to midwives or nurses instead of doctors to provide care
This can particularly affect working-class or rural women, said Dr. Lord, as after 10 weeks they have to travel to state approved abortion facilities.
Women who have had unexplained miscarriages or stillbirths can also sometimes come under suspicion under UK law, warned Dr. Lord, adding he was aware of cases where police had questioned women in hospital and confiscated their phones and laptops and left them in isolation.
“Having all of that when you’ve just suffered tragedy is absolutely devastating,” he said.
dr Lord now fears America’s abortion bans could lead to similar efforts to limit British women’s reproductive rights.
“It just goes to show that in a modern progressive democracy, those who have an agenda to limit reproductive rights are very well organized and can do so, so freedoms that everyone thought were safe and that have been there for 50 years are suddenly taken away “, he said .
“And speaking of America, our laws are actually much stricter than many of their laws because most American states don’t criminalize women while Britain does.
“[In England] It will definitely encourage those who feel their beliefs outweigh those of others, and I think we can expect more action to be taken as a result.”
https://www.nationalworld.com/news/crime/abortion-uk-police-investigate-17-women-for-illegal-abortions-in-england-and-wales-as-us-states-impose-bans-3749526 Abortion UK: Police investigate 17 women over illegal abortions in England and Wales – as US states impose bans