An open letter to Boris Johnson, the newly elected Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister in the UK.
At Marie Stopes UK we’d like to congratulate you on being elected as the leader of the Conservative Party and the UK’s next Prime Minister.
We hope that as leader of our government, you will support the delivery of free, safe and legal abortion care that women all over the UK deserve, because the reality is that the UK is in desperate need of abortion law reform.
It is to the UK’s shame that in 2019, abortion still sits within criminal law and carries with it a criminal sanction, if the woman procuring the abortion does not meet the 1967 Abortion Act criteria.
Abortion is the only healthcare procedure that sits within criminal law in this way. This stigmatises both the women who need abortions and the healthcare professionals who provide them.
In Northern Ireland, which has some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the world, women unable to travel for care who have had no option but to buy illegal abortion pills online can face life imprisonment. Thankfully, this looks to change in the near future, when abortion will be decriminalised in Northern Ireland in the absence of a restored Northern Ireland Assembly. This change will mean that the UK is finally compliant with human rights obligations which UN committees have been asking our government to meet for years.
However, even when women can access abortion care at a safe and legal clinic, they still face the very physical barrier of anti-abortion protests outside of many clinics.
For women seeking abortion care, the experience of walking past protestors can cause significant distress and upset at what may already be a difficult time. Some anti-choice groups have been known to film or take photos of women entering a clinic, others hand out leaflets claiming there is a link between abortion and breast cancer – a claim which is not accepted by the World Health Organization, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health and all other reputable healthcare organisations. The creation of buffer zones around clinics is a priority. We have seen the transformative effect at our West London clinic, where a buffer zone was put in place last year, ending the harassment that our clients and team members faced.
Abortion care does not belong in criminal law - it should be safe, legal, free at point of delivery, and easy to access. The UK’s abortion law needs urgent reform.
We know it is possible - we’ve seen neighbouring countries reform their abortion laws.
The Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to overturn their near complete ban on abortion, where women can now access abortion care in their own country for any reason up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to 24 weeks of pregnancy with some restrictions.
The Isle of Man has completely decriminalised abortion, the first part of the British Isles to do so, where care can be accessed for any reason up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and up to 24 weeks of pregnancy with some restrictions. Their legislation even made room for ‘Access Zones’ around premises that provide abortion or abortion counselling, a decision that protects those accessing and providing abortion care from harassment.
Reform can happen. It has happened across the Irish Sea and it must happen here in Britain.
The whole of the UK needs to see abortion decriminalised and we need to see national safe access zones around all abortion clinics.
Will you be the Prime Minister to oversee the reform of the UK’s abortion law, and finally give women the rights they deserve?
Managing Director, Marie Stopes UK