Lewes MP Maria Caulfield led opposition to a bill seeking to decriminalise abortion, saying it will ‘make women more vulnerable’.
The bill, which was introduced as a Ten-Minute rule bill on Monday (March 13), passed by 172 votes to 142 and will now go to a second reading on March 24.
It was introduced by Hull North MP Diana Johnson, who argued that current legislation is “out of step with medical developments and public attitudes”. She also said it does not take into account the growing availability of abortion pills which, she argues, means many more women are at risk of prosecution.
Introducing the bill Ms Johnson said: “Due to the accessibility of medication now available online, women are more than ever before at risk of breaking the law, and a few prosecutions have already happened. I wonder if any of us truly believe that those women, in such difficult circumstances, really should be seen as criminals.
“Let me be clear that decriminalisation will not mean deregulation. Parliament can decide to retain existing safeguards within a decriminalised environment, including the existing time limit of 24 weeks.”
While the bill has been backed by the Royal College of Midwives and the British Pregnancy Advisory service, it has also attracted criticism from anti-abortion groups who claim decriminalisation could lead to gender-selective or disability-based terminations.
Ms Caulfield led the opposition to the bill in parliament arguing that it could make it easier for women to be forced into nonconsensual abortions.
She said: “This bill would not protect women. Instead, it would embolden those men who pressurise women into abortions that they do not wish to have. Whether it is a controlling relationship or wider communal discrimination and pressure that tell a woman that she must abort a child because it is a girl, because it has Down’s syndrome or because it has a disability, the bill would make such women more vulnerable.”
She added: “The bill is a response to a non-existent threat. It would exacerbate the dangers posed by increased availability of abortion pills and it would remove some of the few protections and regulations in abortion law, fuelling unethical and unsafe practices in many UK abortion clinics.”
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