Women protesting for abortion laws

America has just overturned abortion rights, so what are the laws for abortion in the UK?

Abortion was only decriminalised in Northern Ireland in 2019

On Friday 24 June 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v Wade ruling which protected a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy in America. The ruling is expected to ban abortions across half of US states. In the United Kingdom, women still have the right to abortion, however there are still several hoops to jump through in order to have one legally and safely.

Here is how the abortion laws differ across the countries in the UK:

England, Scotland & Wales

Abortions can take place in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy in England, Scotland and Wales. If a woman wishes to terminate her pregnancy, it has to be approved by two doctors. In the UK, doctors have the right to refuse to sign off on an abortion if they have a moral objection to it, which can mean needing to see more than two doctors to get two signatures.

When signing off on an abortion, the doctors must agree having the baby would pose a greater risk to the physical or mental health of the woman than a termination would, and it must be performed by a licensed medical professional. An abortion can be had after 24 weeks of pregnancy if there is a risk to the life of the woman, evidence of severe foetal abnormality or risk of grave physical and mental injury to the woman.

In 2018, the government legalised the “home-use of early medical abortion pills in England”. Since then, women have had the choice to take the second of two early abortion pills at home, rather than in a clinic.

Northern Ireland

In 2019, abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland after MPs in London voted for legislation which required abortion laws to be changed. Women and girls in Northern Ireland are now able to terminate their pregnancy without the fear of being prosecuted.

Prior to the decriminalisation, women could only get an abortion if the woman’s life was at risk and if there was a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

You can get an abortion by speaking to your GP and asking for a referral to an abortion service. Or, by visiting a contraception clinic, family planning clinic, sexual health clinic and asking for a referral to an abortion service. You can also contact abortion providers directly. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service and Marie Stopes UK are all abortion providers that are available to help.

Featured image credit via Suzanne Cordeiro/Shutterstock.

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