MPs vote in favour of decriminalising abortion in England and Wales

14 March, 2017

Diana Johnson MP presenting her Bill yesterday.

Members of the House of Commons yesterday voted by 172 to 142 in favour of a Ten Minute Rule bill brought by Diana Johnson MP, to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales. Currently women across the UK can be sent to jail for having an abortion without the permission of two doctors, even if she does so within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. The bill sought to repeal the 1861 Act which makes this the case, leaving in place the wider rules and regulations that only permit abortions during that 24-week time-frame and in certain other circumstances.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is a member of the We Trust Women Coalition, the campaign to decriminalise abortion across the UK, organised by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas). Thousands of BHA members and supporters emailed their MPs about the bill, and the BHA also briefed the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group in favour. 21 APPHG MPs were amongst those who voted for the change, with none voting against.

The BHA is also supporting campaigns to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, where it is currently illegal in almost all circumstances. In 2015 the Northern Ireland High Court ruled that the fact that abortions are illegal even in the cases of rape, incest, and fatal foetal abnormality meant that women’s human rights are being breached. However, the Northern Ireland Assembly has since refused to amend the law to put that ruling into statute.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘That a Victorian law, passed before women were even allowed to vote, means that women having abortions, even early on in a pregnancy, can and do face a jail term for doing so, is an unbelievable aspect of our modern society. Just one in five people believe this should be the case, and so we are glad that parliament has voted in favour of reform.

‘Having passed this first hurdle, a private member’s bill on decriminalising abortion will now be heard in the Commons and proceed to further stages of parliamentary debate. Although private members’ bills do not frequently become law, we will continue to campaign for the passage of the bill in the hope that this anachronism can be brought to an end.’


For further comment or information please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 7324 3072.

Read the transcript of the debate:

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns around abortion:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

The BHA is a member of the steering group of Voice for Choice, the national pro-choice coalition, and a supporter of the We Trust Women Campaign. Northern Ireland Humanists, which is a part of the BHA, is also on the steering group of Trust Women NI, the campaign coalition seeking abortion law reform in Northern Ireland.