The coming battle to liberalise abortion—in Britain

The coming battle to liberalise abortion—in Britain
While the Republic of Ireland prepares for a referendum on the 8th amendment, British activists are gearing up to fight their own battle for liberalisation

by Sian Norris
April 12, 2018

At the end of May, Ireland is set to become the latest European country to legalise abortion. A referendum to repeal the country’s 8th Amendment could lead to the end of restrictive laws which, according to the United Nations, violate women’s human rights. That would leave just two European nations where abortion remains illegal: Malta and Northern Ireland. But there are three other nations in Europe that retain highly restrictive laws which criminalise abortion unless performed under certain circumstances. And one of those is Great Britain.

There is a widespread assumption in this country that the 1967 Abortion Act, part of Roy Jenkins’s raft of reforms which created the “permissive society,” decriminalised abortion in England, Scotland and Wales. That’s not strictly accurate. The 1967 Act provided exemptions under which women would not be prosecuted according to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.