The Royal College of Nursing is launching a UK-wide survey of its members on the principle of removing criminal sanctions from termination of pregnancy.
The online survey, which will run from Friday 16 February to Sunday 18 March 2018, will help it to form a position on whether or not to support decriminalisation, said the college.
“Decriminalisation is an important issue for today’s society to consider”
It noted that currently termination of pregnancy was legal in England, Scotland and Wales, but within certain criteria that must be agreed by two doctors.
Without this agreement, termination was a criminal offence that could result in a prison sentence. In contrast, it noted that in Northern Ireland, termination was still illegal except in very limited cases.
The RCN highlighted that there was growing debate about removing criminal sanctions from termination of pregnancy – driven largely by developments in the Republic of Ireland.
The Irish government has agreed to hold a referendum at the end of May on whether to reform the country’s near-total ban on abortion.
The RCN said that while it had a position statement and guidance on termination of pregnancy, it did not currently have an official position on its decriminalisation. As a result, it said it was “committed” to developing one so that it could “contribute to the debate”.
The survey will not consult on the wider issues around termination of pregnancy, including the arguments for or against the procedure, stated the college.
The RCN also noted that it was not calling for any change to gestational limits or changes to the right to conscientious objection by health care professionals.
There are different ways in which termination of pregnancy could be decriminalised but the survey will only focus on the principle of whether or not it should be removed from criminal law, it said.
Commenting on the survey launch, RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “Decriminalisation is an important issue for today’s society to consider and one the college is committed to having a position on.
“As the largest nursing organisation in the United Kingdom, we wish to understand the views of our members,” she said. “I encourage all RCN members to complete the survey to help us inform our position.”
The college said responses to the survey would not be shared publicly and membership numbers would be removed before the results were analysed so views could not be attributed to individuals.