Termination of Pregnancy/Abortion

Information on who to contact and how to proceed in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. Also information on family planning clinics in the UK...

Under the Abortion Act 1967, a termination of pregnancy is legal in England, Scotland and Wales up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Weeks of pregnancy are calculated from the first day of the woman's last period. Under exceptional circumstances (if the mother's life is in danger or if there are severe foetus abnormalities) an abortion may be carried out after 24 weeks.

Note: The laws regarding abortion are different in Northern Ireland (see below)

Although legal, a pregnant woman must essentially ask permission for an abortion by demonstrating that her reasons are satisfactory to the medical and legal establishment. Current law states that no fewer than two doctors must agree that continuing the pregnancy would pose serious risks (mental or physical) to the woman or that the foetus would be severely disabled if carried to term. The termination of pregnancy must be carried out in an authorised hospital or clinic.

A doctor may refuse to carry out an abortion but should refer the woman to another doctor.

A GP or contraceptive clinic can refer a woman for an abortion. Alternatively, contact the British Pregnancy Advisory Service or Marie Stopes, an international NGO providing advice, support and sexual health services.

The FPA helpline provides confidential information in a number of languages, the person should inform the FPA of their language and telephone number when calling, an interpreter will call back.

Minors

The consent of a parent or guardian is not required for minors under 16. Teenagers and under 25s can contact their local Brook Centre for confidential advice.

  • Brook Centre helpline Tel: 0808 802 1234
    Website

Cost

The woman can choose to have an abortion at a National Health Service (NHS) hospital or in a private clinic. An abortion is free of charge if the woman is referred through the NHS. Women may have to pay for an abortion in a private clinic, but in some areas this may be paid for or partially funded by the NHS.

Emergency Contraception ("Morning-After Pill")

An emergency contraceptive pill (Levonelle) often referred to as the "morning-after pill", can be obtained from a GP, a contraception clinic, some hospitals, sexual health clinics, some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics and Brook clinics. It is also available from some pharmacies without a prescription for those aged 16 and over. It should be taken as soon as possible and must be taken within three days after unprotected sex.

The emergency contraceptive pill, EllaOne, is available only with a prescription. It can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. An emergency intrauterine device (IUD) is also available up to five days after unprotected sex.

  • The NHS website has more information on the morning after pill and other emergency contraception

Abortion Pill

The abortion pill (mifepristone followed by prostaglandin), also called "medical termination" is a two-pill process. Mifepristone prepares the body for a termination and two days later prostaglandin is taken to finalise the termination. Medical abortion is available up to nine weeks of pregnancy. It is a non-surgical method for ending a pregnancy in the early stages and can be obtained by prescription only.

Family Planning Clinics in the UK

The Family Planning Association in the UK provides information, support and advice on sexual health issues including pregnancy, contraception and sexually transmitted infections.

  • FPA helpline Tel: 0845 122 8690 (England) Monday to Friday 09:00-18:00
    FPA helpine Tel: 0845 122 8687 (Northern Ireland) Monday to Friday 09:00-17:00
  • Find a local clinic

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not covered by the 1967 Abortion Act. As political power in Northern Ireland is partly devolved, abortion still falls under the Criminal Justice Act.

An abortion is only legal in Northern Ireland under exceptional circumstances, that is, if there is a serious permanent or long-term risk to the woman's mental or physical health. While these criteria are similar to those defined of the rest of the UK, in practice permission is rarely given. In 2013, 51 abortions were performed in Northern Ireland.

In the same year more than 1,300 Northern Irish women travelled to Britain to do so. The numbers who travelled to Scotland and Wales are unknown. Women travelling outside Northern Ireland to seek and abortion are not covered by the NHS and must pay for the procedure themselves, along with travel and accommodation costs. A 2014 court case found this practice to be contrary to the Human Rights Act but upheld the right of the NHS to refuse free abortions to UK citizens living in Northern Ireland.

In February 2015, the Norther Ireland high court ruled in favour of the Human Rights Commission's plea for a judicial review of the current laws.

Further Information