MPs have backed a proposed law that would effectively legalise abortion for any reason up to birth, in a move criticised by opponents as “extreme”.
The Private Members Bill, proposed by Labour MP Diana Johnson, passed its first stage in the House of Commons by 172 votes to 142, however it is unlikely to receive enough parliamentary time to become law.
Currently, abortion is only officially legal in England and Wales under certain circumstances, although in practice the law is applied liberally.
However, Miss Johnson’s Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Motion would effectively make the current Abortion Act defunct.
The Labour MP said: “Women are poorly served by laws which state that even early-term abortions are inherently criminal, and doctors are poorly served by a criminal framework which doesn’t apply to other areas of healthcare.”
However, Conservative MP Maria Caulfield said the bill would be “a charter for unsafe abortion practices not dissimilar to the backstreet abortions”. She pointed out that recent polling showed most women wanted abortion laws tightened, not to become more lax.
Britain’s biggest abortion provider, Marie Stopes International, was ordered to temporarily stop all terminations involving anaesthetic or sedation in August last year after inspectors raised a serious of concerns.
A report released in December accused the provider of throwing dead foetuses in open bins in one clinic, condemned poorly-trained staff, and said in one instance inspectors were forced to intervene after a woman with learning disabilities became visibly “upset”.
Labour MP Rob Flello described Monday’s vote as “shocking”, saying: “Thankfully this motion is very unlikely to become law.
“It is shocking, however, that MPs voted narrowly in favour of an extreme proposal, backed by the disgraced private abortion industry who would financially benefit from easier access to their core service and have been caught jeopardising women’s safety.
“With a litany of scandals and abuses under their belt, Marie Stopes in particular would be pleased to get the criminal law off their back, as Diana Johnson is keen to do.”