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Royal College of Nursing v DHSS [1981] 2 WLR 279

The Royal College of Nursing brought an action challenging the legality of the involvement of nurses in carrying out abortions. The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 makes it an offence for any person to carry out an abortion. The Abortion Act 1967 provided that it would be an absolute defence for a medically registered practitioner (ie a doctor) to carry out abortions provided certain conditions were satisfied. Advances in medical science meant surgical abortions were largely replaced with hormonal abortions and it was common for these to be administered by nurses.


It was legal for nurses to carry out such abortions. The Act was aimed at doing away with back street abortions where no medical care was available. The actions of the nurses were therefore outside the mischief of the Act of 1861 and within the contemplate defence in the 1967 Act.
Back to lecture outline on the Mischief rule of statutory interpretation