is abortion legal in the uk

It’s already harder than it should be to get an abortion in the UK – and it’s getting worse

A woman has just been sentenced to 28 months in prison for ending her pregnancy


When Roe v Wade was overturned by the US Supreme Court last June, many women in the UK felt privileged and relieved to live in a country with free and safe access to abortion. But by July 2022 the British government’s commitments to abortion were taken out of its official statement on gender equality. By August, anti-abortion protests reportedly intensified across the UK. Today, a woman has been sentenced to 28 months in prison for taking legal abortion pills too far into her pregnancy. She has three other children. It was during lockdown. She’s now in jail. 

As MP Stella Creasy pointed out on Twitter: “The average prison sentence for a violent offence in England is 18 months. A woman who had an abortion without following correct procedures just got 28 months under an 1868 act- we need urgent reform to make safe access for all women in England, Scotland and Wales a human right.”

To put it simply, women in the UK should not be facing criminalisation and confusion when trying to terminate their pregnancies. Not everybody wants to become a mother. Yet, there are four obstacles making it scarily hard to get an abortion, which we should all be aware of. So, here they are explained:

Abortion is shockingly still illegal in the UK

Abortion is still illegal in the UK unless you have the consent of at least two doctors and are less than 23 weeks and six days pregnant. These laws (passed in 1861) are archaic but still enforceable and, as recently as 2021, a 15-year-old girl whose pregnancy ended in stillbirth, was put under criminal investigation and had her text messages and internet search history scoured through by police, the Observer reports. 

It’s reportedly a nightmare to get an appointment for abortion pills

Abortion pills (the least invasive form of termination, which you can take at home) require an on the phone or in person consultation before they’re handed out. You’re only allowed to take them for the first ten weeks of pregnancy (the sooner the better) but many women have reported that securing an appointment to get the medication within that time frame feels almost impossible.

Although the NHS website states: “You should not have to wait more than two weeks from when you (or a doctor) first contact an abortion provider to having an abortion,” the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) admitted to the Independent in March that they’re struggling with massive delays and receiving 1,000 requests for abortions per day.

Women are backed into a corner over what type of abortion they have

After the 10-week window for abortion pills is closed, women are meant to have the choice between a surgical abortion (suction method) or induced labour, which means having a stillbirth. As not all clinics provide both procedures, as per NHS rules, you’re meant to be able to see any NHS provider to ensure you get the treatment you want. But health experts say this isn’t happening and, instead, which abortion you get to have has become like a postcode lottery: 

“Patient choice is being taken away,” Dr Jonathan Lord, the medical director of MSI Reproductive Choices told the Independent. “This choice is enshrined for all NHS procedures but is being denied for abortions…This would never happen with any other field of healthcare. It is leading to delays which are cruel for patients.”

“It is very common to prefer surgery over induced labour,” he explained. “Surgery is a treatment which is all done in one sitting. The whole process of an induced labour takes about three days and involves giving birth, which can be very traumatic when you know the baby is not going to be alive. Also, there are higher complication rates with induced labour.”

Our Minister for Women has terrifying views on abortion

As soon as Rishi Sunak made Maria Caulfield the Minister for Women in October, concern erupted for the safety of abortion rights in the UK. Caulfield’s voting record is nothing short of terrifying: She backed cutting down the 24-week abortion time limit, opposed making the harassment of women outside abortion clinics illegal, and has long been an officer in the government’s all-party ‘pro-life’ group.

“We are horrified that a clear opponent of abortion rights has been appointed minister for women,” director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, Harriet Wistrich, told the Guardian at the time. “The vast majority of women want the right to choose. Her appointment signals a potential restriction on women’s reproductive rights, which in turn is an attack on women’s autonomy and freedom.”

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