What is an abortion?

An abortion is when a pregnancy is ended by the deliberate removal of the foetus from the womb so that it does not result in the birth of a child.

What does the law say about abortion?

Important dates in human pregnancy.DH, 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. Before a legally induced abortion can take place, two doctors must agree that:

  • the woman is less than 24 weeks pregnant, and
  • it is necessary to prevent grave damage to the woman's physical or mental health, or any of her existing children

Abortion is always legal, even after 24 weeks, if:

  • there is a serious threat to the woman's health or life, or
  • there is substantial risk that the child will be born with physical or mental abnormalities and be seriously disabled

In cases of medical emergency, a second doctor's agreement does not need to be sought.

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