What is an abortion?

An abortion is the medical process of ending a pregnancy so it doesn't result in the birth of a baby.

What does the law say about abortion?

Important dates in human pregnancyDH, 2011

The Abortion Act 1967, as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, allows termination of a pregnancy by a registered medical practitioner, subject to certain conditions. This applies to England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Under the Act an abortion must be carried out in a hospital or specially licensed clinic, and normally before 24 weeks of pregnancy. Before a legally induced abortion can take place, two doctors must agree that the operation is less risky for the woman than continuing the pregnancy, and that one or more of the following grounds for abortion apply:

  • it is necessary to save a pregnant woman's life
  • it is necessary to prevent grave, permanent damage to the woman's physical or mental health
  • there is substantial risk that the child will be born with physical or mental abnormalities and be seriously disabled

(Source: Department of Health, Abortion Statistics England and Wales, May 2012)

The law outlined above does not apply to Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.