Abortion is still illegal in the UK, thanks to this Victorian law

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tags: abortion



Sally Sheldon is Professor of Law and Medical Ethics at the University of Kent. She has published widely in this field, including a book on abortion law ('Beyond Control: Medical Power and Abortion law', 1997) and a co-edited collection of essays on Feminist Perspectives on Health Care Law (1998).  Thumbnail Image - Paul TownsendCC BY-ND

You probably know that abortion services are available in Britain on the National Health Service. What you may not know is that abortion is still potentially punishable by life imprisonment. That includes terminations very early in a pregnancy.

Abortion is still a criminal offence in the UK under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. It is legal only when carried out under conditions of strict medical control.

As things stand, a terrified teenager, who takes abortion drugs that she has bought over the internet rather than tell anyone that she is pregnant, is committing a crime that is punishable by life imprisonment.

The 1861 act is an archaic, badly flawed piece of legislation, which is ripe for reform. It includes specific offence such as failing to feed one’s servants properly.

The act is so widely recognised as out of date that the Law Commission is conducting a major review of its content. Yet this review does not include those sections of the act that deal with abortion. ...




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