Abortion in the UK

The abortion in the UK , based on the voluntary termination of pregnancy is legal up to 24 weeks of gestation in the territories of England and Wales and Scotland . The induced abortion is legal since the adoption of the Abortion Act 1967 – Abortion Act 1967 – that authorized until 28 weeks. A 1990 amendment reduced the computation until the start of viability at the current 24 weeks. 1 The United Kingdom comprises the territories of Great Britain and Northern Ireland . In Northern Ireland the 1967 law is not applied and still apply the 1861 law to apply the criminal law of 1945. 2

At the time of its adoption abortion legislation was one of the most liberal in Europe .

Abortion Act 1967

The 1967 Abortion Act sought to clarify the confusing previous legislation. It was presented and defended by David Steel and its approval decriminalized the practice of induced abortion in a series of circumstances and with medical provision of the National Health Service of Great Britain. The Law was adopted on 27 October as as 1967 and entered into force on 27 April as as 1968 .

Assumptions and deadlines

The law authorizes the practice of health personnel to perform an abortion on any of the following grounds or assumptions (the certificate must be approved by two physicians):

  • To save the life of the woman.
  • To avoid serious permanent injury to the physical integrity or mental health of the woman.
  • Up to 24 weeks gestation to avoid damage to the physical or mental health of the woman.
  • Whether the embryo or fetus is likely to be affected by significant physical or mental disability.

Amendments derived from the HFE Act 1990

The 1967 abortion law was amended in 1990 by the HFE Act 1990 (Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990). The consequence was that the Infant Life Preservation Act was decoupled from the Abortion Act, which allowed the practice of induced abortion in cases of possible disability or when the life or health of Mother. 3 4

Modifications in the assumptions and deadlines

The HFE Act 1990 involved the introduction of changes in the 1967 abortion law:

  • Reduction of the term to 24 weeks . Deadlines were reduced from 28 weeks to 24 for most cases reflecting medical advice on fetal viability at 24 weeks.
  • Elimination of restructurings for cases of risk . Restrictions for the practice of late abortions (when gestation exceeded 24 weeks) were eliminated in cases of life-threatening, fetal abnormality, or severe physical or psychological injury to the woman.

Since the adoption of the law in 1967, several debates have taken place (1975, 1977, 1979 and 1987) on the law and proposed changes, their effectiveness and application. In 1974 a committee appointed by the parliament, the so-called Lane Committee, investigated its operation and validated its need and correct application.

In May 2008, parliamentarians voted in favor of maintaining the current 24-week legal limit against proposals of reduction to 22 and 20 weeks. 5

Authorized methods

The methodology applied basically depends on the gestational age :

  • Abortion with medication . Up to the ninth week (63 days) ( mifepristone , approved in 1991 in Great Britain as abortifacient).
  • Surgical abortion . From the seventh to the fifteenth week suction-suctioning or vacuum aspiration is the most frequent method (as a substitute for more aggressive techniques such as dilatation and curettage . From the fifteenth to the eighteenth week, dilation and surgical evacuation is the method more common.

Northern Ireland

The 1967 Abortion Act does not apply in Northern Ireland . Abortion legislation in Northern Ireland is subject to the criminal offenses legislation of 1861 and the Northern Ireland Criminal Law of 1945. Abortion in Northern Ireland is legal only in exceptional circumstances for the life of women Pregnant – imminent danger and if there is a long-term or permanent risk of their physical or mental health. The situation is similar to Ireland. 6

The women of Northern Ireland travel to Great Britain and other European countries to access a safe and legal abortion. It is estimated that about 2000 women travel each year from Northern Ireland to England or other European countries to have access to safe and legal abortion since the Abortion Act was promulgated in 1967. 7


  1. Back to top↑ Abortion Act 1967 c.87 – The UK Statute Database
  2. Back to top↑ Government Statistical Service for the Department of Health. (June 19, 2007). Abortion statistics, England and Wales: 2006 . Retrieved November 1, 2007.
  3. Back to top↑ Anne Widecome and pro life MPs complained
  4. Back to top↑ http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm198990/cmhansrd/1990-06-21/Debate-16.html
  5. Back to top↑ BBC NEWS | Politics | MPs reject cut in abortion limit
  6. Back to top↑ Court in Strasbourg condemns Ireland for preventing abortion of a woman with cancer , 16/12/2010, El País
  7. Back to top↑ Court rejects call to clarify Ulster abortion law , 8/7/2002, The Guardian