‘Abortion should not be a crime’


13 March 2017

  • Dr Pam Lowe comments on MPs' vote to scrap Victorian-era abortion law which criminalises women and doctors 

An expert in women’s reproductive health has called for abortion to be taken out of criminal law as MPs prepare to discuss scrapping the legislation which goes back to the Victorian era.

Dr Pam Lowe, a women’s reproductive health expert from Aston University, said: “When Trump suggested that women having abortions should be punished, many people in the UK felt that this was an outrageous and extreme position. Yet abortion remains a crime in all parts of the UK, punishable by up to life imprisonment. The 1967 Abortion Act, which remains the legal framework governing abortion in in England, Scotland and Wales, did not repeal the 1861 Offences against the Person Act which remains in force.  This was written before women even had the vote.

“On Monday 13th March, the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill will be introduced by Diane Johnson seeking to remove this anachronistic piece of legislation. It will not change the basis on which abortions are currently available, but will mean that abortion will be treated like other health-care issues. The current legislative framework was designed at a time when doctors routinely made decisions about a patient’s treatment without consultation with them. Today we expect patients to be at the heart of decision-making, and that should be the same for abortion. Whilst this may happen in practice, in law a paternalistic model is at the heart of the legislation.

“The laws also predate the development of the abortion pill. The majority of abortions in the UK are now carried medical abortions, and there has been a rise of women buying abortion pills over the internet. Clearly it would be better if all women sought medical advice, but holding the threat of prison over women who feel unable to seek medical advice is unfair and unjust.

“This year is the 50th Anniversary of the Abortion Act. This was an important piece of legislation in securing the rights of women.  In this anniversary year, it is time that we took abortion out of the criminal law and end the threat of punishment. Decriminalisation would not mean a return to dangerous backstreet abortions, instead it would give greater scope for abortion services to improve services to women.”


Notes to the editor

About Dr Pam Lowe

  • Pam Lowe joined Aston in September 2005. Most of her teaching and research is centred around women’s reproductive health, with a particular interest in pregnancy, contraception and parenting. Recently she has worked on a number of projects including examining the construction of foetal alcohol syndrome in British newspapers and the deployment of neuroscience in parenting policy. Currently she is undertaking a project with partners at Coventry University examining young people’s understanding of sexual consent.
  • For more information, see her online profile.

About Aston University

  • Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston University has been always been a force for change. For more than 50 years the University has been transforming lives through pioneering research, innovative teaching and graduate employability success. Aston is renowned for its opportunity enabler through broad access and inspiring academics, providing education that is applied and has real impact on all areas of society, business and industry. True to Aston’s Coat of Arms which bears the word ‘Forward’, in 2016 Aston recently held a year-long anniversary celebration to recognise its heritage and achievements, but with a focus to drive forward the next stage in the University’s exciting journey. www.aston.ac.uk/50 

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