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New report underlines urgent need to modernise abortion law


Engender says the move would prevent prosecutions. 

Engender has published a new report making the urgent call to modernise abortion law in Scotland. 

The charity’s report, ‘Outdated, harmful and never in the public interest - The urgent need to modernise Scotland's abortion law and prevent prosecutions’, examines the shortcomings of the current legal framework in Scotland in detail, including evidence that at least 11 people have been charged or prosecuted for abortion related offences in Scotland in the last two decades. 

It sets out pathways to decriminalisation and explores what a modernised and human rights compliant framework for abortion could look like. 

Catherine Murphy, executive director at Engender, said: “For too long women in Scotland and throughout the UK have had to settle for a system of abortion law that doesn’t put their needs and rights first. 

“Rather than a legal framework that supports the highest standards of healthcare, we have a patchwork of dated laws that are no longer fit for purpose. This is putting women and medical professionals at unnecessary risk of criminalisation. 

“The need for legal reform is growing more urgent by the day.”  

The report finds that the current legal framework is badly outdated, falling behind international human rights standards, out of step with guidelines from global and national health bodies, impeding access to quality abortion care for women, perpetuating abortion stigma and women’s inequality, preventing healthcare practitioners from providing highest standards of care, and causing marginalised women trauma and lasting harm.   

Dr. Audrey Brown, consultant in Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and former chair of the Scottish Abortion Care Providers, added: “Recent cases in the media have raised suspicions when women present with a later pregnancy loss. Instead of clinical staff focusing on care and support for the woman, they can be uncertain if they must report a potential crime. If women think staff may report them to the police, they may delay or avoid seeking medical care.” 

The report is informed by input from legal experts and medical professionals, detailing the wide-ranging support that exists for decriminalisation. 

The report concludes with clear recommendations for the Scottish Government and other key decision makers, on next steps towards a modernised regulatory framework. 

Dr. Jonathan Lord, co-chair British Society of Abortion Care Providers & RCOG abortion taskforce, said: “A niche part of the law used against women suspected of illegal abortion has its origins in a law from 1690, from an era before the last woman was burnt alive at the stake or the end of witchcraft trials. 

“This law has had some of the most damaging and oppressive impacts on women.” 



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