LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Scotland’s bishops are urging the Scottish Parliament to reject proposals to decriminalize abortion.

The call is in response to a petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to bring forward legislation to fully decriminalize abortion services. The petition lodged with the Parliament’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee.

Abortion is a crime under Scotland’s common law, but abortion has been legal in most cases since the Abortion Act 1967. The Act allows abortion when the pregnancy “has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

In their submission, the Scottish bishops said if abortion is decriminalized in Scotland, it would: Result in Scotland having one of the most extreme abortion regimes in the world, far removed from the 12-week abortion time limit of most EU countries; allow for abortion up to birth for any reason, including abortion on the basis of sex and for any disability, no matter how severe; and result in the removal of the requirement for two doctors to sign off an abortion which could endanger pregnant women by removing criminal sanctions for abortions performed in unsafe settings or under coercion.

“Every abortion involves the taking of innocent human life. We appeal to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government in the strongest possible terms to acknowledge the reality of abortion, which is always fatal for the prenatal child,” the bishops said.

“Statistics continue to bear out that women from the most deprived areas of Scotland are twice as likely to have an abortion than women from the least deprived areas. This suggests that poverty plays a significant role in a woman’s decision to have an abortion. There is an obligation on the state to support women and families that find themselves in such difficult circumstances and who feel that they have no other option,” they added.

According to Public Health Scotland, the rate of abortions in Scotland in 2021 was 13.4 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, while it was 13.5 in 2020. The number of abortions in 2021 was 13,758, a slight decrease from the 13,896 abortions performed in 2020.

“We appeal to parliamentarians and political leaders to work to increase efforts to promote alternatives to abortion, to ensure support is available to women experiencing a crisis pregnancy, and to acknowledge and enforce equality of rights for the child in the womb, the first of which is the right to life,” the bishops said.

“The mark of a humane and compassionate society is to work through the difficulties and challenges women face in the case of a crisis pregnancy in a life affirming, not life destroying, manner.”