The BMA recognises the diversity of opinion amongst its membership on the issue of abortion. Although representing members with a wide range of views, the BMA has clear democratic and representative mechanisms for formally establishing policy on such issues, through its RB (representative body). Through these procedures, the BMA has repeatedly, since the 1970s, agreed policy statements supporting the Abortion Act as a ‘practical and humane piece of legislation’.
A detailed outline of the BMA’s policy can be found in the BMA’s main publication on abortion - The Law and Ethics of Abortion: BMA Views.
The BMA believes it is important to keep legislation and public policy under review. In anticipation of public and professional debate about whether current abortion legislation is fit for purpose, including the role of the criminal law, a commitment was made at the 2016 BMA’s ARM (annual representatives meeting) to develop a discussion paper on the ‘decriminalisation’ of abortion, to inform debate at the 2017 ARM.
The neutral discussion paper - Decriminalisation of abortion: a discussion paper from the BMA - does not include recommendations, instead the aim of this paper is to provide a guide to some of the key legal and ethical issues raised by the debate around decriminalisation, in order to facilitate good quality, informed debate about the issue.
Following debate at the 2017 ARM, the BMA passed policy supporting the decriminalisation of abortion. The policy does not call for an absence of regulation, and limits could still be set, but they would be subject to professional and regulatory, rather than criminal, sanctions. In addition, criminal and civil laws that apply to other aspects of clinical care would also continue to apply to abortion. For example, supplying abortion drugs without a prescription would be a criminal offence under the UK-wide Human Medicines Regulation 2012. Doctors at the ARM asked the BMA to give further consideration to the significance of viability in relation to the role of the criminal law.
The policy does not address the broader issue of when and how abortion should be available. The BMA has established policy on these issues which remains unchanged.
Doctors back decriminalisation of abortion
Decriminalisation of abortion: a discussion paper from the BMA
UPDATE to the discussion paper
The law and ethics of abortion: BMA views (updated October 2018)