How The British Pregnancy Advisory Service Are Advancing Women’s Rights

By Amy Rosenbaum, Journalist 28 Sep 2018

The second of our Welsh women’s organisations is the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). They fundamentally believe that safe legal abortion is a necessity for women.

They’ve been working to promote this cause for over 50 years through advocacy, research and education. They are the leading provider of abortion services in the UK.

BPAS argue that as well as being a health issue, a woman’s right to have a safe termination is crucial to her being able to participate fully in society. As one Australian commentator put it, when abortion is no longer a crime, “women will be recognised as the authors of our own lives. With that comes our full citizenship.”

So, what does the British Pregnancy Advisory Service do?

Image via Wikimedia 

There have been huge improvements to reproductive rights over the past few years in the UK. The introduction of Early Medical Abortion pills now means women under 10 weeks pregnant can have terminations without even undergoing surgery.

Furthermore, the landmark decision in Ireland earlier this year to repeal the 8th amendment is indicative of shifting values, and was a huge victory for organisations like BPAS. Irish women previously risked up to 14 years in prison by travelling to England for a safe abortion, or ordering illegal pills online.

However, abortion law in Britain is actually more complicated and outdated than you might think. In March 2017, the House of Commons voted in favour of a Ten Minute Rule Bill to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks. However the bill unfortunately ran out of time, meaning abortion in fact remains a criminal offence. Olivia Marshall from BPAS comments “Our abortion law is still rooted in a law from 1861 – before women could even vote.”

This is because the 1967 “Abortion Act” did not make abortion legal – it merely added an amendment to the original 1861 Offence Against the Persons Act, stating that abortion would be allowed under five specific circumstances. These include if the mother’s life is in danger, foetal abnormalities, or if pregnancy would damage the mental health of the mother.

Most terminations in Britain are carried out by reason of the latter – that pregnancy would be harmful to the mother’s mental health. Whilst in practice it is generally easy for women in Britain to access safe terminations, in legal terms they must still demonstrate to two doctors that being pregnant would damage their mental health.

BPAS are now pushing for abortion to be removed from the criminal code altogether, and instead regulated in the same way as all other medical procedures. Marshall says they are hopeful that politicians in Westminster will eventually “deliver the whole UK an abortion framework fit for the 21st century.”

Featured image via Pixabay