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IPPF demands reform of the UK Abortion Act 1967 to decriminalize abortion

A judge in England has sentenced a mother-of-three to 28 months in prison for using abortion medication to end her pregnancy.

A judge in England has sentenced a mother-of-three to 28 months in prison for using abortion medication to end her pregnancy. This sentencing represents a violation of human rights and highlights the urgent need for the reform of legislation and for the decriminalization of abortion across the UK.  

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is outraged by the decision to send a woman to jail for ending her own pregnancy and calls for the decriminalization of abortion to enable women and pregnant people to exercise their human right to reproductive autonomy, free from the threat of criminal prosecution.     

In Britain, the number of women and girls facing police investigations and the threat of a prison sentence under current abortion laws has risen over the past three years. Despite significant public support for abortion rights and increasing recognition of abortion as essential healthcare, England, Scotland, and Wales still rely on an abortion law that is more than 50 years old, and which is underpinned by a criminal law dating back to 1861. This law is wildly out of date, out of step with public opinion, and is behind other countries which have moved towards extending and protecting abortion rights.   

Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: 

"The decision to hand-down a 28-month prison sentence to a woman for ending her own pregnancy is appalling and a step-back for women's health and rights in the UK. Abortion is healthcare and should not be included in criminal law.  

"One in three women in Britain will have an abortion in their lifetime. We need abortion policies and care that are supportive of every woman according to her unique needs and circumstances.  No woman should ever face criminal charges or the threat of jail for seeking abortion care.  

"IPPF fully supports the urgent reform of the abortion law and calls for the decriminalization of abortion.”    

Maïté Matos Ichaso, Director of Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF), the only global fund dedicated to abortion, hosted by IPPF, said: 

“As a global Fund dedicated to abortion, we see the devastating impact of abortion criminalisation on a daily basis. Across the world, women are languishing in prison for choosing to end their pregnancies, but also for experiencing miscarriages. The very threat of criminalisation looms large and adds to the existing stigma and barriers people face in accessing safe abortion care. Our grantee partners regularly report raids and prosecutions, not only of those seeking abortion care but also of the doctors and nurses who seek to support them.  

Abortion needs to be decriminalised across the UK, as well as around the world, if we really want to see the right to safe reproductive health care respected and protected.” 

IPPF has signed a joint position statement with partners including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, calling on the UK government to reform the Abortion Act 1967 to decriminalize people seeking to end their own pregnancies. To read the full statement please click here.  

IPPF will continue to work tirelessly to protect the rights of all people around the globe to access abortion care and ensure that women will not be forced to carry a pregnancy or give birth against their will. 

Note on language - Within this statement we use the terms women and women’s health. However, not only people who identify as women need access to abortion care and this statement is inclusive of all people who can become pregnant, including intersex people, transgender men and boys, and people with other gender identities that may have the reproductive capacity to become pregnant and an abortion.  

Header illustration by Tanya Shyika, The Greats