Petition to decriminalise abortion in Scotland to go before parliament

Campaigner Gemma Clark says current legal framework leaves people vulnerable to prosecution.

Petition to decriminalise abortion in Scotland to go before parliament iStock

A petition calling for the decriminalisation of abortion in Scotland has been accepted for consideration by the Scottish Parliament.

Campaigners say current legislation is not fit for purpose and are calling for access to abortion to be fully protected under law.

Currently, abortion remains technically illegal under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861.

The Abortion Act of 1967 did not overturn previous legislation but allowed certain provisions for abortion to be carried out with the approval of two doctors.

Any termination of a pregnancy later than 24 weeks is considered illegal and criminal charges cannot be applied to abortion if it takes place within 23 weeks and six days of gestation.

However, cases of prosecution have occurred including two British women who currently face life sentences for abortion in the UK.

While the Scottish Government currently say they have no plans to reform the law, a spokesperson said they “have not ruled out reviewing legislation in the future”.

The new petition calls upon the Scottish Government to change this and “bring forward legislation to fully decriminalise abortion services in Scotland and make provisions to ensure abortion services are available up to the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy across all parts of Scotland.”

The petition was launched by campaigner Gemma Clark, 39, who says the current legal framework leaves people vulnerable to prosecution.

Campaigner Gemma Clark

She told STV News: “I remember hearing about the Abortion Act in school but I suppose I always thought nobody actually got prosecuted.

“I now realise there remains the potential for that to happen in Scotland.”

In July this year, a 25-year-old Oxford woman pleaded not guilty at Oxford Crown Court to “administering poison with intent to procure a miscarriage” when she was 31 weeks pregnant in January 2021.

A second 44-year-old woman appeared at North Staffordshire Magistrates Court on July 19 this year standing accused of “intentional destruction of a viable unborn child”, an offence under the 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act.

‘We are not as safe as we think we are. We need to work on making sure our rights are as safe as they can be in Scotland’

Gemma Clark, campaigner

Ms Clark, from Renfrewshire, said she felt compelled to take action after seeing the increase in anti-choice protesters outside Scottish hospitals in recent months.

She also said the news of the overturn of Roe v Wade in America made her look more closely at the laws in place to protect abortion rights in the UK.

She continued: “We are not as safe as we think we are. We need to work on making sure our rights are as safe as they can be in Scotland.

“You still need approval from two doctors. These are extra hurdles that could make it much harder, particularly for people living in more rural areas.”

Ms Clark launched her petition in July however she has been waiting for approval from the Scottish Parliament for the cause to be considered.

On Wednesday, 11 weeks after it was first created, the petition finally gained approval however Ms Clark worries the public focus on abortion rights has decreased since the worldwide outrage in the summer as a result of the overturning of Roe V Wade.

She said: “It took quite a while to get the petition approved by the Scottish Parliament. I think there was a lot of momentum in the summer to discuss abortion rights but that’s starting to simmer and it’s a shame.”

However, Ms Clark says the response to her petition has been overwhelmingly positive and she hopes action from the Scottish Government could boost awareness of the issue.

She said: “I shared the petition in various Facebook groups and many people had no idea that abortion is not legal.”

She added: “The American right-wing have an influence in Scotland that I don’t think people are fully aware of.”

Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay has worked to bring forward a private members’ bill to introduce 150-metre buffer zones around medical facilities to help protect those seeking abortion from harassment.

She gave Ms Clark’s petition her backing and told STV News: “The Scottish Greens support the decriminalisation of abortion and would like to see legislation come forward.

“As we have seen elsewhere in the world it is not enough to stand still when it comes to reproductive rights. That is why progressing issues such as safe access zones and decriminalisation of abortion are so essential.”

Labour MSP Monica Lennon, who has previously lodged a parliamentary motion on the decriminalisation of abortion, has given her support to the petition.

She told STV News: “What Gemma Clark is highlighting is really important.

“I think now that the petition has been lodged it is our opportunity and hopefully engagement will grow.

“I think what’s happening in the US and the concerning escalation of harassment outside clinics has panicked people in Scotland because it shows that we cannot be complacent about abortion rights.

“I would like now to hear from Maree Todd [Scottish Government minister for women’s health].”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our most immediate priorities for improving access to abortion services include legislating to allow patients and staff safe access to abortion clinics without fear of harassment or intimidation, further improving access to early medical abortion at home and developing a Scottish-based service for mid-trimester abortions.

“We have no current plans to reform abortion law, but have not ruled out reviewing legislation in the future.”

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