No, U.K. MPs are not currently considering 'legalizing abortion up to and during birth'

By: Naledi Mashishi
March 1 2024

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No, U.K. MPs are not currently considering 'legalizing abortion up to and during birth'

Screenshot of a viral tweet falsely claiming that the U.K. is considering legalizing abortion 'up to and during birth.' (Source: X/Screenshot)


The Verdict Misleading

The proposed amendment would only apply to women who seek to end their own pregnancy, and existing abortion laws would remain in place for doctors.

Claim ID 7fda5d66


On 24 February 2024, a U.K.-based medical doctor posted on X (formerly Twitter), "The U.K. is currently considering legalising abortion up to and during birth."

The doctor was responding to an earlier X post by U.K. media outlet The Telegraph, which announced that abortion could be decriminalized in England and Wales next month following a landmark vote in the House of Commons. The Telegraph repored that "Polling has found a majority of MPs believe women should no longer be prosecuted for having a termination past 24 weeks of pregnancy."

The same doctor had initially responded to the news by posting, "Abortion of healthy babies for healthy mothers up to and during birth…Evil evil evil."

According to current U.K. law, abortion is legal when approved by two doctors and performed before 24 weeks. The law allows for abortions to be performed later in cases where the pregnancy poses a risk to the health of the mother or fetus.

Labour Party MP Diana Johnson tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to remove a clause that allows a woman to be jailed for seeking or obtaining an abortion outside of the law. However, this amendment would only apply to the woman seeking an abortion, and according to the amendment, "would not change any law regarding the provision of abortion services within a healthcare setting, including but not limited to the time limit, the grounds for abortion, or the requirement for two doctors' approval."

Therefore, it is misleading to state that the amendment would make abortion legal "up to and during birth."

What did we find?

Abortion in the U.K. was initially criminalized under the Offences against the Person Act 1861. The Act states that any pregnant woman who attempts to cause a miscarriage intentionally, as well as anyone who assists her in doing so, may be liable for a felony conviction and risks being jailed.

The later Abortion Act of 1967 allows for an abortion to be obtained with the consent of two medical doctors before 24 weeks of pregnancy. Since both acts still exist and the 1861 act has not been repealed, this means that while abortion is legal in the U.K., there is a risk that women who obtain abortions under unlawful circumstances could be jailed for doing so. Louise McCudden, MSI Reproductive Choices’ U.K. Head of External Affairs, explains to Logically Facts, "As they stand, our current laws mean [a woman] could face prosecution for being in a situation where she has no choice but to end her pregnancy outside the law. This is what the NC1 amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill seeks to address." 

McCudden also stated that "Abortion “during birth” is a nonsensical concept. Nobody would support this, if such a thing existed, which it doesn’t. The amendment in question doesn’t even fully decriminalize abortion, nor does it change the time limit for provision. The amendment simply means the woman herself wouldn’t be subject to prosecution for a decision she has made about her own body, potentially during an incredibly difficult time in her life."

Last year there were at least four cases of women who had been charged for obtaining illegal abortions. In June, a woman received a 28-month sentence after admitting that she illegally obtained an abortion by taking abortion pills when she was between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant. She admitted that she had lied about how far along during the pregnancy she was to obtain the abortion pills, and her internet search history included terms like "how to have an abortion without going to the doctor" and "how to lose a baby at six months."

According to MSI, the availability of abortion pills and rise in abortions completed at home has resulted in women facing greater scrutiny after having unexplained miscarriages. McCudden told us, "These cases are never easy. Women have had their lives turned upside down for the investigations alone. Even when all charges are dropped, their neighbors and families have been made aware of the accusations. Some have been separated from young children and had their names made public. You can imagine how dangerous that would be for very vulnerable women with abusive partners or at risk of honor-based violence."

The proposed amendment would mean that no one would face criminal investigation for ending their own pregnancy. However, medical professionals, unregulated suppliers, and family or friends who attempt to coerce a pregnant person into having an abortion could still face criminal charges if they behave outside the current abortion laws. Therefore, providing an abortion after 24 weeks to someone who does not meet the legal criteria would still be illegal. 

The verdict

U.K. MPs will vote on a landmark amendment in the next month that will end persecution for women who seek abortions after the 24-week time limit. However, the amendment will only apply to women who seek to end their own pregnancy. The existing abortion laws will remain in place for medical practitioners and other third parties, making it illegal for them to administer an abortion after 24 weeks. Therefore, we have marked this claim as misleading.

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