Making the case for decriminalising abortion

The campaign to decriminalise abortion has gained momentum in recent months, and Engender has continued to advocate for change. We've pulled together a quick rundown of our recent work on this issue and the need for progress.

The graphic shows a light grey background with black left-aligned text quote that reads "Regulation of abortion care in Scotland is in urgent need of modernisation, with the current framework acting as a drag on services and as a barrier to timely access."

The Background

In England, women have been prosecuted and sentenced for procuring their own abortions, attracting media attention and leading to protests and other activities by advocates for reform.

Regulation of abortion care in Scotland is in urgent need of modernisation, with the current framework acting as a drag on services and as a barrier to timely access. The Scottish Government’s recent commitment to bring forward proposals to decriminalise abortion by the end of the parliamentary term (2026) has come on the back of increased scrutiny, policy and advocacy efforts by a range of stakeholders.


Abortion healthcare is vital to women's equality and wellbeing. It is a routine reproductive health procedure, with around one in three women needing an abortion in their lifetime in the UK.

Like most Scots, Engender supports women to make decisions about ending or continuing a pregnancy, and we’ve long called for change to ensure women’s reproductive rights are fully realised. Unfortunately, the current legal and regulatory regime means that women can be criminalised for procuring abortions, that two doctors need to authorise a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy, and that this impacts treatment such that it does not always best meet women's needs. 

What have we done so far?

Last September, we joined Abortion Rights Scotland to hold a webinar session on decriminalisation, which set out key arguments in terms of women’s equality, the perspective of clinicians, and the legal status quo. You can watch the webinar online here. Our submission in response to a public petition to decriminalise abortion, alongside other evidence gathered by the Petitions Committee earlier this year, highlights key arguments for decriminalisation and urges the Committee to seek further and fuller evidence following this petition.

Earlier this month, Engender joined with eight other organisations - focused on women’s equality, abortion rights and health - to discuss the Scottish Government’s recent commitments with the Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health, Jenni Minto MSP. This followed a collective letter to the then-newly appointed First Minister in June, which was co-signed by 18 organisations, expressing our support for his commitment to remove abortion from the criminal justice system, and calling for an expert working group to support the development of proposals.

An expert working group

September’s Programme for Government contained a commitment to review of the current legal framework, and our call to create an expert working group has been accepted. The meeting with the Minister was a welcome opportunity to discuss this work, and to highlight the need for reform in terms of impacts on service provision and intersectional women’s equality and the importance of drawing on different women’s experiences of accessing abortion care.

What's next?

In terms of next steps, we focused on the need to act swiftly on establishing the review if we are going to see real progress by 2026, alongside transparent and established resourcing. We highlighted unintended consequences that have arisen internationally when reforming abortion law, with regards to access to services, and how this emphasises the need for lived experience input from different groups, alongside a broader focus on what the new regime will look like on the ground for women. Linked to this, we want to see the process rooted in established international human rights standards and norms, which make clear that abortion has no place in criminal law.

At Engender, we will be publishing a paper looking in detail at abortion within Scots law and different approaches that could be taken to achieve decriminalisation and a better service for women in Scotland. Please keep a look out for this and work around this important issue across Scotland in the months ahead.

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