Thank you for contacting me regarding proposed amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill which, if passed, would have lead to changes in the abortion service provision in the UK.
As it transpired, neither amendment was put to a vote so the rules remain unchanged. I make the following views on each amendment:
New Clause 28
With the Covid-19 lock-down making it difficult to attend clinics, I was supportive of changes to remove the need for physical attendance and to permit both sets of pills to be taken at home. This new clause would have made this a permanent measure for victims of domestic abuse. I do not see the need for this and it raises a number of legal issues as to who this would be applicable and how this is proven. Of more concern, there have been issues with women taking pills at a later date than is medically safe. Locally, this led to one emergency admittance to hospital.
It is vital, rather than rushing into legislation, that we assess how this temporary change has worked and whether it makes sense to continue or to revert back to physical attendance. The Government, today, conceded that a consultation exercise would be open to determine whether attendance should be reinstated. I will be driven by the best health and well-being experience of the woman accessing the service. I hope that the Government will be as well. I regret that something which was described as a temporary emergency could be given permanency. This impacts trust when we take emergency and curtailing steps and justify it on basis that it is only to get us through the emergency period.
New Clause 29
Whilst I would like to see the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, I do not agree that the Domestic Abuse Bill is the vehicle for changes of this type. I sat on the public bill committee of the Domestic Abuse Bill. It is an important item of legislation in its own right and gives victims of domestic abuse more protection. This should not be the vehicle for abortion reform.
The reform of abortion provision is, in my view, long overdue so I hope that we see some progress in this regard. It should not be a defence to a criminal assault. Equally, there is an argument for the 24 week term limit being reduced to take into account advances in health and science since the 1960s. The Republic of Ireland have recently introduced abortion services and their first term limit is 12 weeks.
There is an argument, on both sides of the debate, that reform could work to suit both sides of the debate in some aspects. It is vital that we approach reform on this open basis and not seek to introduce it via an unrelated bill. It appears the Speaker took a view that this was not directly relevant hence it was not even selected for debate.
Notwithstanding that the vote was not pushed, I thought it would help for you to read my views.