Abortion Decriminalisation Bill Does Not Carry Any Weight in the Court of Public Opinion or in Current Law

Monthly archive

13th Mar 2017
Rachael Adams
Westminster Houses of Parliament

Today, Diana Johnson MP tabled a Ten Minute Rule Bill which called for the full decriminalisation of abortion across England and Wales. MP’s were very much divided on the issue and the Bill was narrowly passed by 172 to 142. 

So what is the next step?

Does a Ten Minute Rule Bill actually carry any weight?

A Ten Minute Rule Bill is not always a serious attempt to get a Bill passed, but rather they give MP’s a chance to voice their opinions on a subject or current issues.

Ten Minute Rule Bills actually rarely result in bills and almost never become law; this is because either the Government typically opposes Private Member’s Bills (of which Ten Minute Rule Bills are the most tentative type) in the later stages or the Bill runs out of time because it is not seen as ‘priority’ for the Government to pursue.

The reason why most Ten Minute Rule Bills are allowed to move forwards is simply because a) most Ten Minute Rule Bills are not objected to and b) most MPs have not yet had time to review the bill’s content because there is no actual bill yet.

This Bill runs counter to UK public opinion

It would be unusual for the Government to champion a Bill that runs completely contrary to public opinion. In 2014 a ComRes poll found that 92% of women agreed that a woman requesting an abortion should always be seen by a qualified doctor. 78% of women agreed that the health of women considering an abortion would be put at risk unless the doctors who sign abortion request forms had also seen the patient. This Bill’s aims would be to remove these safeguards and could potentially put the health of the woman at risk.

Many MP’s do not support the full decriminalisation of abortion

Maria Caulfield MP, who led the opposition to the bill:

“I and many colleagues who share my views will not be silenced as we seek to be a voice for the voiceless…and as we argue for a more modern and humane abortion law that not only upholds the dignity and rights of women but the dignity and rights of the unborn child” 

“A 21st century approach to this area must be based on a fuller and richer understanding of human dignity and equality which doesn’t treat women as a victim of her own body, which doesn’t treat children as commodities, and which doesn’t treat marginalised people such as young girls or children with Down’s Syndrome as burdens or inconveniences. On this count this Bill fails”

CARE’s Director of Parliamentary Affairs, Dr Dan Boucher

“CARE will monitor future developments with respect to this Bill with great care."

"When Parliament passed the 1967 Abortion Act the expectation was that there would only be a very limited number of abortions. Had legislators been told that 50 years later it would have resulted in over 8 million abortions it seems quite probable that many would have voted differently. In light of - among many other considerations (the reality of post-abortion trauma, the fact that 70% of babies now surviving when born at 23 weeks, the difficulties associated with abortion provision through private providers outlined by the Care Quality Commission etc) we certainly need to mark the 50 year anniversary of the Abortion Act by introducing enlightened changes. These changes, however, should be to tighten up abortion legislation, providing greater protections for both mother and child, not to make the practice more lax and common place."

Today’s events he argued, however, must be seen in context:

"What has happened today is that two MPs have spoken for 10 Minutes each to a Bill that doesn’t even exist and then there has then been a vote which MPs know will not change any law. It may not be the outcome we would have hoped for but neither is it something to lose any sleep over. If there ever was a serious attempt to change the law - removing the practice of abortion from the protections and safeguards provided by the criminal law - we would expect a different outcome."

“CARE will always seek to protect the rights of both the woman and the unborn child and will oppose any legislation that will put either of them at risk of harm.”

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