Bishop Sherrington “deeply alarmed” by two abortion amendments to Criminal Justice Bill

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Bishop John Sherrington, Lead Bishop for Life Issues for the Bishops’ Conference, has released a statement on the Criminal Justice Bill expressing his deep concern about two tabled amendments that seek to liberalise abortion laws, set to be debated next week, Wednesday 15 May.

Bishop Sherrington also voiced his support for two other tabled amendments, one of which would reduce the abortion time limit and the other that would not allow babies with Down syndrome to be aborted up to birth.

Full Statement

Four amendments have been submitted to the Criminal Justice Bill which relate to the protection of unborn babies and will be debated on 15 May.

I support the amendment from Caroline Ansell MP (New Clause 15) that would reduce the abortion time limit to 22 weeks. As a result of advances in medical practices many babies can now survive, if born at 22 or 23 weeks’ gestation. I hope that parliamentarians will support this amendment.

Likewise, I call on parliamentarians to support the amendment tabled by Sir Liam Fox MP (New Clause 41), which will bring an end to the situation whereby babies diagnosed with Down syndrome can be aborted up to birth. This would be a step towards ending the discrimination against babies diagnosed with a disability in our current abortion law.

However, I am deeply alarmed by two amendments to the same Bill, one of which is proposed by Dame Diana Johnson MP (New Clause 1). This amendment, if passed, will remove any legal protection for unborn babies when a woman seeks to bring about her own abortion at any stage of pregnancy. A further danger presented by this amendment is that women could abort their own pregnancies at home through the use of abortion pills at any point in the pregnancy, which could seriously endanger a woman’s health and life. Moreover, the risks of coerced or forced abortion would only increase as the legal safeguards around abortion decrease.

The second amendment by Stella Creasy MP (New Clause 40) includes proposals to decriminalise abortion up to the 24th week for any party involved and carries similar threats to pregnant women and their unborn babies.

The Church recognises the struggle and trauma which may lead some pregnant women to consider an abortion. Such difficult situations require pastoral and medical care for vulnerable women in their time of need. When cases of illegal abortions are prosecuted, it is for the judge to decide the appropriate balance of justice and mercy for all involved.

Our current legislation provides some level of protection for pregnant mothers and unborn babies by keeping abortion within the criminal law. Relaxing abortion legislation further would be a tragic mistake for both mother and child.

As Pope Francis has said: “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.

I encourage people to contact their MPs to make their views clear on these amendments.

Bishop John Sherrington
Lead Bishop for Life Issues and Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster