MPs vote to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales

The bill will now go to a second reading scheduled for the end of the month

MPs vote to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales

Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images

MPs have voted to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales.

The Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill was backed by 172 votes in favour, versus 142 against.

The bill, which was introduced as a Ten-Minute rule bill by Labour MP Diana Johnson, will now go to a second reading on 24th March, before it can be passed into law.

While women are allowed to terminate unwanted pregnancies in England and Wales, the 1967 Abortion Act means abortion is only legal under particular conditions. Women who undergo the procedure who do not abide by these specific conditions – such as having it signed off by two doctors or terminating a pregnancy after 24 weeks – can still face life imprisonment. 

Johnson told MPs: "There is no other medical procedure in this country is governed by legislation this old, this out of step with medical developments and public attitudes.

"Doctors are poorly served by a criminal framework which does not apply to other areas of medicine."

Johnson also said decriminalising terminations will not make it any easier to get an abortion, or necessarily change how deeply women consider the decision to have one.

The bill is backed by the Royal College of Midwives and the British Pregnancy Advisory service.

Pro-choice groups such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service welcomed the progress. However, pro-life groups have argued that the move could result in more abortions taking place, abortions taking place at later dates, or gender selective abortions occurring.

Conservative MP Maria Caulfield opposed the bill, telling MPs they must protect "the rights of the unborn child".