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RCN backs principle of decriminalising abortion

A majority of college members in a UK-wide poll backed removal of criminal sanctions

A majority of college members in a UK-wide poll backed removal of criminal sanctions


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The RCN has backed the principle of removing criminal sanctions from abortion.

The move follows a UK-wide poll of the college’s membership, which found the majority supported removing criminal sanctions from legislation that governs the procedure.

Abortion is legal in England, Scotland and Wales, within certain criteria that must be agreed by two doctors. Without this, it is a criminal offence that can carry a prison sentence.

In Northern Ireland, abortion is illegal except in very limited circumstances.

The RCN believes abortion should be treated as any other medical procedure, and be regulated in the same way all clinical procedures are.

Some 73.7% of respondents to the RCN survey – almost 3,000 members – voted in favour of decriminalisation in May.

Protecting women's right to safe care

In a position statement published today, the college said any move towards decriminalisation would require robust, regulatory and quality monitoring processes to protect the rights of women to access free, safe and effective services.

The college did not consult members on the arguments for or against termination. Nor has it called for any change to gestational limits or the right to conscientious objection by healthcare professionals.

The college is assessing education and training needs across the nursing workforce and is revising guidelines on conscientious objection, to consider nurses who do not support abortion.

RCN director of nursing, policy and practice, Bronagh Scott, said: ‘Nurses have signalled support for the decriminalisation of termination of pregnancy legislation, as long as regulatory and quality monitoring processes are in place to protect the rights of women.

‘Our members have helped inform our position and this statement honours our commitment to them. The RCN’s future work on this issue will consider now how this legislation impacts on the care given by nurses, midwives and other healthcare practitioners.’


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