LONDON, England, March 17, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – A bill eliminating Great Britain’s few remaining barriers to abortion passed its First Reading in the House of Commons this week, but pro-life MPs and activists believe it has little chance of advancing.
The Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill received the House of Commons’ approval on Monday by a 174-142 vote. It proceeds to Second Reading on March 24.
“We’re not worried about it passing,” Anne Scanlon, education director for Life Charity, told LifeSiteNews. “It’s a private member’s bill and their intention is really to raise an issue.”
Though the bill is scheduled for second reading next week, its turn will actually come only after the House debates approximately 75 earlier private members’ bills. Only a few days each session go to private bills.
Dr. Anthony McCarthy of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children also gives the bill no chance. All it will take “to kill the bill for this parliamentary session … is one MP saying ‘object.’ This was never a serious attempt to legislate.”
However, the bill is still worrisome, Scanlon and McCarthy agree, because of the support it received in the House and of its ultimate goal to remove all abortion restrictions. A large minority of Conservative MPs voted for it along with all but six Labour members.
The initiator, Labour MP Diana Johnson, seeks to decriminalize abortion. On paper, British law carries penalties of up to life in prison for mother or doctor conspiring to abort a child.
“This is the harshest criminal penalty of any country in Europe, underpinned by a Victorian criminal law passed before women had the right to vote, let alone sit in this place,” Johnson said in the House of Commons.
However, the Abortion Act of 1967 exempts all abortions of unborn children done up to 24 weeks old if two doctors agree that ongoing pregnancy or childbirth endangers the health of the woman. Abortions may also be done right up to birth if the child is severely disabled or the mother’s life is endangered. At 24 weeks, the law deems the unborn child viable.
“In reality,” Scanlon said, “98 percent of abortions are done in private clinics which turn a blind eye to the requirements.”
The UK already has effective abortion on demand, she said.
Private clinics follow the letter of the law by obtaining two doctors’ signatures for each abortion. But Johnson justified decriminalization because abortion pills such as Mifegymiso, obtained by mail order, would not come with doctors’ approval, thus exposing women to criminal prosecution.
However, pro-life MP Maria Caulfield countered that easy access to abortion pills would leave women more vulnerable to coercion by family or boyfriends.
“It would exacerbate the dangers posed by increased availability of abortion pills and it would remove some of the few protections and regulations in abortion law,” Caulfield said.
Johnson said her bill would allow all requirements to persist but as regulations and not criminal provisions. Violation would bring professional sanctions or suspension of operations but no jail terms.
However, Caulfield said the bill would fuel “unethical and unsafe practices in many UK abortion clinics … leaving women less safe and less informed.”
Caulfield and other MPs referred to the abortion industry’s recent record of malpractice. The government suspended some types of abortions at the country’s largest abortion provider, Marie Stopes International, for more than a month last year. Earlier this month, the Daily Mail ran a sting operation and reported how several Marie Stopes clinics helped a reporter pretending to want an abortion tailor her motives to fit the legislation.
Labour MP Rob Fiello, also pro-life, referred to the “disgraced private abortion industry” that Johnson’s “extreme proposal” would only enrich.
Scanlon also argued that Marie Stopes International’s recent “history of abuses” made “nonsense” of “Ms. Johnson’s position that there is no need for legal restrictions.”
Caulfield told the Commons that the existing abortion laws did need reform, but not reform that made abortion easier to get.
“We argue for more modern and humane abortion law that upholds not only the dignity and rights of women but the dignity and rights of the unborn child,” she said.
“Too often today,” Caulfield continued, “debates about abortion — about the risks involved and the rights of the unborn child — are shut down. But I, and many colleagues who share my views, will not be silenced as we seek to be a voice for the voiceless.”
SPUC’s McCarthy told LifeSiteNews the bill must be seen as “part of a campaign the ultimate aim of which is to allow abortion up to birth and for any reason.” As long as it is still in the Criminal Code, abortion is “deemed to be … morally problematic or in some way harmful.”