Stella Creasy has said she will table an amendment to the British Bill of Rights to establish women’s access to abortion as a human right.
The Labor MP for Walthamstow told The Independent abortion rights in the UK are “more fragile than people realise” as she warned many Britons are unaware abortion is still criminalized in this country.
Ms Creasy’s announcement comes after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade – the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.
Millions of women in America have subsequently lost their legal right to terminate a pregnancy, with over half of US states expected to ban abortion or heavily restrict policies in the wake of the decision. Some states are set to ban abortions even when a pregnancy is as a result of rape or incest or when the woman’s life is at risk due to pregnancy complications.
Ms Creasy said her amendment to the British Bill of Rights, which will be tabled when the legislation is published at second reading, pushes the message “abortion is a human rights issue”.
The politician, an outspoken campaigner for abortion rights, added: “Roe v. Wade gave women in America a constitutionally protected right to an abortion. We have never had that right in the UK.
“What the dismantling of Roe v. Wade teaches us is we cannot wait for further attacks. Nobody thought the Supreme Court would roll back on a right it had granted.”
Abortions are still considered a criminal act in England, Scotland and Wales under the 1967 Abortion Act. If any medical professional delivers an abortion out of the terms of the act, they are at risk of facing criminal punishment.
Legislation passed in 1861 means any woman who ends a pregnancy without getting legal permission from two doctors, who must agree to continue with it would be risky for the woman’s physical or mental health, can face up to life imprisonment.
Ms Creasy said she has consulted lawyers who informed her establishing abortion as a human right is “within the scope” of the Bill of Rights. She said votes on abortion are not subject to the party whip as they are issues of conscience and she expects MPs to be given a free vote on the amendment.
The politician noted she wrote the legislation that specifically states women in Northern Ireland have a protected right to access abortion services as a human right.
“Women in England, Wales and Scotland don’t have the same protection,” Ms Creasy added.
In Northern Ireland, abortion was banned in almost all circumstances, even rape and incest, with women seeking terminations facing life imprisonment, until it was legalized in October 2019.
While abortion has been decriminalized there, abortions still remain hard to obtain due to services not being commissioned because of a stalemate at Stormont.
Ms Creasy urged anyone concerned about abortion rights to contact their MP to ask them to pledge to back her amendment – adding it could pave the way for abortion to be decriminalised.
“Bringing in a human rights framework would inevitably progress the argument that healthcare is not a criminal matter,” Ms Creasy added.
The legislation, which will serve as a successor to the Human Rights Act, will be debated in the Commons at the legislation’s second reading which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.
Reflecting on the dismantling of Roe v. Wade in the US, Ms Creasy said: “I’ve always learned we don’t mourn, we organize. I am very clear we must stand in solidarity with sisters in America. If we get this in to the British Bill of Rights, it sends a message abortion is a human rights issue.”
Ms Creasy hit out at “all those commentators who say this could never happen in the UK” – adding they don’t realize “how much pressure” MPs are under from anti-abortion activists.
Ms Creasy noted the UK government initially planned to stop so-called telemedicine measures, which involve taking pills to terminate a pregnancy, as they were under pressure from people who were “behind the scenes”.
Before Covid hit the UK, getting the first tablet, mifepristone, for a medical abortion required a visit to an abortion clinic. But after lockdowns were rolled out to contain the spread of the virus, the government allowed the medication to be sent by post to be taken at home after a phone consultation.
At the end of March, MPs voted to make at-home early medical abortions permanent in England, with 215 politicians voting for the measure and 188 against.
The politician’s comments come after Danny Kruger, the Conservative MP for Devises in Wiltshire, on Tuesday warned the UK should not be “reading” America about abortion rights. Mr Kruger provoked criticism for saying he does not agree with people who “think that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy in this matter”.
For years, abortion providers, charities, medical bodies, and MPs have been calling for abortion to be decriminalized in the UK. They want to see abortion law extricated from criminal law and monitored in a same way to other medical practices – with the British Medical Association in favor of the decriminalization of abortion in the UK.