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Diana Johnson’s radical abortion up-to-birth motion narrowly passes, campaigners relieved that very unlikely to become law

Today, Monday 13th March 2017, Diana Johnson’s radical Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Motion passed narrowly with 172 vote 142, in favour of Johnson’s scheme to remove all legal restrictions on abortion. The motion, sponsored and backed by the private abortion provider BPAS, sought to remove legal restrictions on abortion, in practice allowing abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth.

As this was a Ten Minute Rule Motion it is very unlikely that it will become law and get further time to be debated in Parliament. It even less likely that it will become law.

In theory, the Ten Minute Rule Motion would make the Abortion Act defunct. Johnson implied that the Infant Life (Preservation) Act, which makes it illegal to destroy a child capable of being born alive, may also be scrapped under her plans. This would be alongside section 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act. This would in turn render the legal safeguards provided by the Abortion Act obsolete, ushering in a legal situation where abortion would be available on demand, for any reason, up-to-birth.

Nearly 28,000 people have signed a petition in opposition to Johnson’s proposal.Last year the Royal College of Midwives support for the BPAS’ abortion up-to-birth campaign caused widespread condemnation from midwives, the media and the general public against this extreme proposal. Over 1000 midwives have now signed the open letter asking for RCM position to be revoked.

If the motion were to become law, abortions could be carried out legally in any location, for any reason, potentially at any stage during pregnancy. Without legislation on abortion, practices such as sex-selective abortions, mail-order abortions and school nurses handing out abortions pills on school premises would all be perfectly legal.  

MP Maria Caulfield pointed out that this extreme position is in direct conflict with what the majority of British women want with regard to the UK abortion law. Recent polling has shown that most women want abortion legislation to be tightened, not to become more laxed.

One 2011 YouGov poll showed that 88% of women in the UK either want to keep the current law and time limit as it is, or restrict it further. This contrasts with the 2% of women who wanted to see an increase in the abortion time limit beyond 24 weeks. A further poll from 2014 showed that 88% of women favoured a total and explicit ban on sex-selective abortion, whilst 92% of women agreed that a woman requesting an abortion should always be seen in person by a qualified doctor. The two doctor requirement would, however, be swept away under the proposed reform.

Johnson’s Bill, primarily backed by BPAS, came at a time where the private abortion industry is knee-deep in scandal and revelations of unethical, unsafe and unprofessional practices.

Last year, the Care Quality Commission had to step in to protect women from potential harm at Marie Stopes abortion clinics. Their subsequent report showed that women were left at risk of infection, doctors were going home with women under sedation, foetal tissue from a succession of terminations left in open waste bins, staff were not trained in how to respond to help deteriorating patients, 2600 serious incidents were reported at the clinics and post-surgery safety checks were completed before the surgery had even started.

Last week, another exposé on Marie Stopes International revealed that abortions were being approved on the basis of telephone consultation discussions as short as 22 seconds, with medically untrained call centre workers.  

Conservative MP for Lewes, Maria Caulfield, speaking in the debate said:

‘This Bill would not protect women. Instead it would embolden those men who pressurise women into abortions they do not wish to have; whether it is a controlling relationship, or the wider communal discrimination and pressure that tells a woman she must abort her child because it is a girl, or because it has Down’s Syndrome or disabilities. This Bill would make those women more vulnerable…

Indeed, by undermining all the safeguards and regulations around abortion… the Bill becomes a charter for extreme abortion practices, such as sex-selective abortion…

This Bill is a response to a non-existent threat; it would exacerbate the dangers posed by any increase in the 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, and leaving women less safe and less informed.’

Rob Flello MP, said;

‘Thankfully this motion is very unlikely to become law. It is shocking, however, that MPs voted narrowly in favour of an extreme proposal, backed by the disgraced private abortion industry who would financially benefit from easier access to their core service and have been caught jeopardising women’s safety. With a litany of scandals and abuses under their belt, Marie Stopes in particular would be pleased to get the criminal law off their back, as Diana Johnson is keen to do.’


Notes to Editor:

  • For more information visit or email
  • Last year the Royal College of Midwives support for the BPAS’ abortion up-to-birth campaign caused widespread condemnation from midwives, the media and the general public against this extreme proposal. Over 1000 midwives have now signed the open letter asking for RCM position to be revoked.
  • The decriminalisation campaign specifically acknowledges that they are campaigning for a situation that would remove all gestational time limits for abortion. The position was affirmed by Anne Furedi, CEO of abortion provider BPAS at the London launch of the campaign where she said “I want to be very, very clear and blunt… there should be no legal upper limit.”
  • Midwives have still not been consulted on their name being put to this campaign.
  • Despite revolt from midwives and Royal College of Midwives CEO’s resignation, the RCM position statement on abortion still stands – which includes support for the aims of BPAS campaign and limiting of conscience rights inline with the Doogan case –
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