The government's Criminal Justice Bill could fundamentally change abortion law

March 25, 2024

A toddler in a striped babygrow looks out through a window, one had on the glass. We are behind him.

The government’s flagship Criminal Justice Bill has two important amendments, that will likely be debated and voted on shortly in the House of Commons, that could fundamentally change our laws on abortion. The Catholic Church upholds the dignity and value of every human life from conception to natural end and has clear views on these amendments.

New Clause 1 (NC1) – Decriminalisation

An amendment New Clause 1 (NC1) has been tabled by Dame Diana Johnson MP. This amendment would remove offences that make it illegal for a woman to perform her own abortion at any point right through to birth. These changes to the law would apply throughout all nine months of pregnancy and would create a situation where abortion, including sex-selective abortion, is legal at any stage. As Pope Francis says,

“It is troubling to see how simple and convenient it has become for some to deny the existence of a human life as a solution to problems that can and must be solved for both the mother and her unborn child”.

In England and Wales, both unborn child and pregnant mother deserve full protection under our laws, as some of the most vulnerable in our society. As such we oppose this amendment.

New Clause 15 (NC15) – Upper Limit

This amendment has been tabled by Caroline Ansell MP, representing a cross-party group of 25 MPs, with a view to changing the law to lower the abortion time limit from 24 weeks to 22 weeks. Due to advances in medical science, many babies can now survive before Britain’s 24-week limit. The current limit is also double that of most of our neighbouring countries. We would encourage MPs to support this amendment.

Take action: How can I contact my MP?

You can write to your local MP to make your voice heard on this important issue. Click here to visit the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales' online email tool, to find your MP's details and suggested text to send to them.

Voting on abortion laws

Some people have asked how Catholic MPs can vote on the Criminal Justice Bill amendment seeking to lower the abortion time limit to 22 weeks from 24 weeks. The Holy See offers useful guidance on this from Pope Francis’ predecessors.

In November 2002, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (now Dicastery), issued a Doctrinal Note on ‘Some Questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life signed by its then-Prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Section 4 of this note refers to Pope Saint John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae. Paragraph 73 of the encyclical states:

“When it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.”

Source: Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales