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Doctors back decriminalisation of abortion

ARM 2017 Medical Ethics John Chisholm
BMA medical ethics committee
CHISHOLM: 'The majority of doctors were clear that abortion should be treated as a medical issue'

Doctors have backed calls for the decriminalisation of abortion – supporting the removal of criminal sanctions associated with the procedure.

The move, which was voted for by doctors’ representatives at the BMA annual representative meeting comes 50 years after the enactment of the Abortion Act.

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.

BMA medical ethics committee chair John Chisholm said: ‘This is clearly a sensitive and complex issue, on which doctors voiced a broad range of views during an informed and considered debate.

‘Abortion is currently a crime, with exceptions, throughout the UK. Following the debate the majority of doctors were clear that abortion should be treated as a medical issue rather than a criminal one.

‘What must be clear is that decriminalisation does not mean deregulation. The debate today and the BMA’s new policy only relate to whether abortion should or should not be a criminal offence; 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.’

During a debate and vote at the ARM doctors asked the BMA to give further consideration to the significance of viability in relation to the role of the criminal law.

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.

The debate and the BMA’s new policy only relate to whether abortion should or should not be a criminal offence; it does not address the broader issue of when and how abortion should be available. The BMA has established policy on these issues which remain unchanged as a result of this debate.

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