Abortion is often a delicate matter, which is sometimes left private, whilst some openly advocate or condemn the process. However, it is important to know the legal rights surrounding abortion, especially in light of the Roe v Wade case in the US.

In England, Wales and Scotland, abortions were illegal before the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967, which initially allowed them to take place up to 28 weeks’ gestation. This was reduced to 24 weeks in 1990. In 2018, there were 205,295 legal abortions in England and Wales.

Countries that have the most restrictive laws against abortion also have the highest rates of abortion, the Guttmacher Institute found. “The abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 women in countries that prohibit abortion altogether or allow it only to save a woman’s life, and 34 per 1,000 in countries that allow abortion without restriction as to reason — a difference that is not significant,” Guttmacher commented in a report issued in March.

The current law on abortion is based on the Abortion Act 1967  and Section 37 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The Abortion Act 1967  only applies to England, Scotland and Wales. Recently, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man have all inaugurated their own legislation; some of which is more tolerant than that on the mainland. Nonetheless, in Northern Ireland abortion can only be acquired if the woman’s life is at risk and in some cases of fetal abnormality.

Abortion in the UK is only allowed after 24 weeks’ gestation if there is a risk to the life of the woman, evidence of grave fetal abnormality or severe mental or physical injury to the woman. However, abortion must go through multiple experts in order to take place; must be confirmed by 2 doctors and carried out in a legitimate government-accepted hospital or clinic.

Nevertheless, there is a conscientious objection that must be noted. The vast amount of GPs are pro-choice, however, there are some who are pro-life. In a manner corresponding to their professional guidelines, GPs who object to the procedure should treat a woman who desires an abortion with dignity and respect and transfer her promptly to another health care provider. They are, however, not legally compelled to do so.

To get an abortion in the UK, you can speak to your GP/health advisor (your doctor can refer you to another professional if they do not agree to the procedure), contact a sexual health clinic or self-refer by contacting an abortion provider directly.

Lastly, there are two options for carrying out an abortion. These are either a surgical abortion, or a medical abortion (‘abortion pill’) where you take 2 medicines 24-48 hours apart to induce an abortion. It is however against the law to encourage your own abortion for example, buying pills online as this could damage your body.

Before doing anything, contact an abortion advice service such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), MSI Reproductive Choices UK, a GP or sexual health service, who can help you find appropriate care for free and in confidence.

Author John Szepietowski

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