LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Proposed amendments to a domestic abuse bill that would open up Britain to abortion on demand up to the 28th week of pregnancy would also lead to the violation of conscience rights for medical workers, the UK’s leading Catholic bioethics think tank is warning.
The UK Parliament is expected to start debating the bill on July 6, and there have been proposals to use the legislation to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act and result in the introduction of abortion on demand, for any reason, until the 28th week of pregnancy.
In England and Wales, abortions are not allowed after the 24th week of pregnancy, although there are exceptions to the law.
In a statement, the Oxford-based Anscombe Bioethics Centre notes there is broad cross-party and cross-community support for the proposed Domestic Abuse Bill, but says two “invidious amendments have been proposed which would use the bill as a vehicle to expand abortion provision.”
The amendments have been supported by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the UK’s largest abortion provider.
One proposed amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill would amend the UK’s Abortion Act 1967 so that abortion could take place outside a hospital or licensed premises if the woman were in an abusive relationship, effectively enshrining in law the practice of ‘home abortion’ that was introduced by the government purportedly as a temporary measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The amendment shows no awareness that home abortion would be requested and procured within the controlling environment of the abusive partner, rather than in a place away from home. This seems to offer less protection to women, not more,” the bioethics center claimed.
The second proposed amendment would repeal Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and introduce a crime of ‘nonconsensual termination of pregnancy.’ However, this would not cover abortions that were coerced by a partner but ‘done in good faith by a registered medical practitioner, registered nurse or registered midwife.’
The Anscombe Bioethics Center calls the second amendment “more radical” and seeks to decriminalize abortion in the country.
“It is a mistake to imagine that the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is a piece of Victorian legislation that stands alone or that could be changed without affecting subsequent legislation. The 1861 Act has been amended repeatedly and is presupposed by all subsequent developments in abortion law in England and Wales. The Abortion Act 1967, for example, makes abortion lawful under certain conditions but presupposes that otherwise it would be unlawful,” the center says.
The statement added that if the amendment passed into law, then the restrictions and safeguards of the Abortion Act 1967 would cease to apply.
“The current shape of the law, while offering little protection to the unborn child, does at least signal to some extent that abortion is a serious moral issue, set apart from routine healthcare choices, and that this is a decision that, if regretted, can never be reversed. [The amendment] would signal greater normalization of abortion and make it less set apart from interventions such as routine surgery,” the statement continues.
“It should be noticed that the amendment does not in fact ‘decriminalize’ abortion, despite its stated intention, as it does not repeal the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929. It leaves in place the crime of ‘child destruction’ where the infant is at more than 28 weeks gestation (unless the child is disabled or abortion is believed to be necessary to prevent death or grave permanent injury to the mother,” it adds.
The Anscombe Bioethics Centre claims the amendment is “a staging post to the repeal of all protections for the unborn child at all stages of pregnancy.”
The statement also says if the law is changed so abortion is not in need of special legal justification “then those who refuse to participate in abortion are not due any special legal protection.”
“So called ‘decriminalization’ would lead to discrimination against conscientious doctors, nurses and midwives who wish to serve their patients without being coerced into participation in the grave injustice of abortion,” the bioethics center concludes.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome