In the Media

Decriminalising abortion in the UK (Counsel Magazine) – McO lawyers join Goldsmith Chambers to investigate the case for legal change

Decriminalising abortion
In England and Wales the number of women investigated under archaic laws is rising exponentially. Is it time to decriminalise abortion? Anthony Metzer KC, Dr Charlotte Proudman, Honza Červenka and Shannon Moore investigate


In June 2022, when the US Supreme Court overturned its own precedent in Roe v Wade, the reaction of many lawyers in this country was: ‘It’s terrible, but it could never happen here.’ They were right, but not for the reasons they thought. Contrary to widely held belief, abortion is still a criminal offence in England and Wales. The Abortion Act 1967 did not completely decriminalise it: abortion is legal only if medical professionals say so. Further, the Abortion Act provides a defence for the medical profession (by providing circumstances in which they are allowed to deliver abortion healthcare), not for the woman who undergoes it.

In England and Wales, as in Scotland, for an abortion to be permitted, two doctors must agree that pregnancy poses a risk of ‘grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health’ of the woman or other stringent reason. Northern Ireland decriminalised abortion in 2019 within 12 weeks of conception and for any reason but access to abortion services remains limited.