What are the UK abortion laws, where are abortions illegal and does the NHS offer terminations?

BECOMING pregnant can be life-changing – but for some people it's not always a happy moment.

A total of 209,917 abortions were reported in 2020 and the number of women opting for the procedure is on the up.

In women aged 30-34, abortions have increased the most, from 16.5 per cent per 1,000 in 2010 to 21.9 in 2020.

The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) states that a fifth of pregnancies were terminated in women aged 35-39.

In those over 40 a third ended in terminations.

But in women over the age of 40 who were unmarried, 37 per cent of pregnancies were aborted, compared to 25 per cent that were aborted among pregnant, married women.

Who is Heidi Crowter and what is her abortion case?

Today Heidi Crowter, 26, from Coventry along with other campaigners, lost their legal battle against the government.

Heidi, who has Down's Syndrome had taken her battle with the Department of Health and Social Care to the High Court, claiming the 1967 Abortion Act did not respect her life.

Crowter and the other claimants wanted to have a section of the Abortion Act removed.

Under the legislation, abortions in England, Scotland and Wales are permitted within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

But the Act allows for abortions to take place up until birth if there is “a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”, which includes Down’s syndrome.

Lawyers for the Down’s syndrome campaigners argued in a two-day High Court hearing in July argued the law is unlawfully discriminatory and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Crowter, speaking outside court at the time of the hearing said: “I am someone who has Down’s syndrome and I find it extremely offensive that a law doesn’t respect my life, and I won’t stand for it.

“I want to change the law and I want to challenge people’s perception of Down’s syndrome. I want them to look at me and say ‘this is just a normal person’.

Abortions laws are also coming under scrutiny in the US at the moment after Uma Thurman revealed she also had to terminate a pregnancy.

The actress, 51, said it was her "darkest secret" in an op-ed for the Washington Post criticising the much maligned Texas anti-abortion law.

What countries have made abortion illegal? And what other restrictions are in place?

These are places where there are restrictions on abortion

Afghanistan – To save a woman's life
Albania – No restriction
Algeria – To preserve physical/mental health
Andorra – Prohibited altogether
Angola – Prohibited altogether
Antigua and Barbuda – To save a woman's life
Argentina – To preserve physical health
Armenia – No restriction
Australia – No restriction
Austria – No restriction
Azerbaijan – No restriction
Bahamas – To preserve physical health
Bahrain – No restriction
Bangladesh – To save a woman's life
Barbados – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Belarus – No restriction
Belgium – No restriction
Belize – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Benin – To preserve physical health
Bhutan – To save a woman's life
Bolivia – To preserve physical health
Bosnia and Herzegovina – No restriction
Botswana – To preserve physical/mental health
Brazil – To save a woman's life
Bulgaria – No restriction
Burkina Faso – To preserve physical health
Burundi – To preserve physical health
Cambodia – No restriction
Cameroon -To preserve physical health
Canada – No restriction
Cape Verde – No restriction
Central African Republic – To preserve physical health
Chad – To preserve physical health
Chile – To save a woman's life
Colombia – To preserve physical/mental health
Comoro – To preserve physical health
Costa Rica – To preserve physical health
Croatia – No restriction
Cuba – No restriction
Cyprus – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Czech Republic – No restriction
Denmark – No restriction
Djibouti – To preserve physical health
Dominica – To save a woman's life
Dominican Republic – Prohibited altogether
DR Congo – Prohibited altogether
Ecuador – To preserve physical health
Egypt – Prohibited altogether
El Salvador – Prohibited altogether
Equatorial Guinea – To preserve physical health
Eritrea – To preserve physical/mental health
Estonia – No restriction
Eswatini – To preserve physical/mental health
Ethiopia – To preserve physical health
Fiji – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Finland – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
France – No restriction
Gabon – Prohibited altogether
Gambia – To preserve physical/mental health
Germany – No restriction
Ghana – To preserve physical/mental health
Greece – No restriction
Grenada – To preserve physical health
Guatemala – To save a woman's life
Guinea – To preserve physical health
Guyana – No restriction
Haiti – Prohibited altogether
Honduras – Prohibited altogether
Hong Kong – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Hungary – No restriction
Iceland – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
India – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Indonesia – To save a woman's life
Iran – To save a woman's life
Iraq – Prohibited altogether
Ireland – To save a woman's life
Israel – To preserve physical/mental health
Italy – No restriction
Ivory Coast – To save a woman's life
Jamaica – To preserve physical/mental health
Japan – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Jordan – To preserve physical health
Kazakhstan – No restriction
Kenya – To preserve physical health
Kiribati – To save a woman's life
Kuwait – To preserve physical health
Kyrgyzstan – No restriction
Laos – Prohibited altogether
Latvia – No restriction
Lebanon – To save a woman's life
Lesotho – To preserve physical health
Liberia – To preserve physical/mental health
Libya – To save a woman's life
Liechtenstein – To preserve physical health
Lithuania – No restriction
Luxembourg – No restriction
Madagascar – Prohibited altogether
Malawi – To save a woman's life
Malaysia – To preserve physical/mental health
Maldives – To preserve physical health
Mali – To save a woman's life
Malta – Prohibited altogether
Marshall Islands – Prohibited altogether
Mauritania – Prohibited altogether
Mauritius – To preserve physical/mental health
Mexico – To save a woman's life
Micronesia – Prohibited altogether
Moldova – No restriction
Monaco – To preserve physical health
Mongolia – No restriction
Montenegro – No restriction
Morocco – To preserve physical health
Mozambique – To preserve physical/mental health
Myanmar – To save a woman's life
Namibia – To preserve physical/mental health
Nauru – To preserve physical/mental health
Nepal – No restriction
Netherlands – No restriction
New Zealand – To preserve physical/mental health
Nicaragua – Prohibited altogether
Niger – To preserve physical health
Nigeria – To save a woman's life
North Korea – No restriction
North Macedonia – No restriction
Norway – No restriction
Oman – To save a woman's life
Pakistan – To preserve physical health
Palau – Prohibited altogether
Panama – To save a woman's life
Papua New Guinea – To save a woman's life
Paraguay – To save a woman's life
Peru – To preserve physical health
Philippines – Prohibited altogether
Poland – To preserve physical health
Portugal – No restriction
Qatar – To preserve physical health
Republic of the Congo – Prohibited altogether
Romania – No restriction
Russia – No restriction
Rwanda – To preserve physical health
Saint Kitts and Nevis – To preserve physical/mental health
Saint Lucia – To preserve physical/mental health
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Samoa – To preserve physical/mental health
San Marino – Prohibited altogether
Sao Tome and Principe – Prohibited altogether
Saudi Arabia – To preserve physical health
Senegal – Prohibited altogether
Serbia – No restriction
Seychelles – To preserve physical/mental health
Sierra Leone – To preserve physical/mental health
Singapore – No restriction
Slovakia – No restriction
Slovenia – No restriction
Solomon Islands – To save a woman's life
Somalia – To save a woman's life
South Africa – No restriction
South Korea – To preserve physical health
South Sudan – To save a woman's life
Spain – No restriction
Sri Lanka – To save a woman's life
Sudan – To save a woman's life
Suriname – Prohibited altogether
Sweden – No restriction
Switzerland – No restriction
Syria – To save a woman's life
Taiwan – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Tajikistan – No restriction
Tanzania – To save a woman's life
Thailand – To preserve physical/mental health
Timor-Leste – To save a woman's life
Togo – To preserve physical health
Tonga – Prohibited altogether
Trinidad and Tobago – To preserve physical/mental health
Tunisia – No restriction
Turkey – No restriction
Turkmenistan – No restriction
Tuvalu – To save a woman's life
Uganda – To save a woman's life
Ukraine – No restriction
United Arab Emirates – To save a woman's life
United Kingdom – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
United States – No restriction
Uruguay – No restriction
Uzbekistan – No restriction
Vanuatu – To preserve physical health
Venezuela – To save a woman's life
Vietnam – No restriction
Yemen – To save a woman's life
Zambia – To preserve health/on socioeconomic grounds
Zimbabwe – To preserve physical health

Is abortion legal in the UK?

In England, Scotland and Wales abortion has been a legal right since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967.

The termination is only legal when performed by a licensed medical professional (a doctor) and it must also be signed off by two other doctors.

Doctors in the UK have the right to refuse to sign off on your abortion if they have a moral objection to it, this can, unfortunately, mean needing to see more than two doctors to get the two signatures.

In Northern Ireland the Abortion Regulations 2020 allow access to abortions up to 12 weeks gestation.

The US state of Alabama signed into law tough anti-abortion legislation in May 2019.

What criterion needs to be met if you want to proceed with an abortion?

In order to be eligible for a termination one (or more) of the following conditions must be met:

  • That the pregnancy has not exceeded 24 weeks
  • The continuation of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, more so than a termination
  • There is a substantial risk that if the child is born they would suffer mental or physical abnormalities
  • That the abortion is necessary to prevent permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman

Is it illegal to terminate due to financial/social needs or based on gender?

There are a number of reasons a woman might want to have an abortion.

These could be down to health, financial, career or relationship uncertainty.

Clare Murphy, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service told The Times: "There are a variety of reasons why women are choosing to delay motherhood and have smaller families.

“These include financial instability, desire to progress at work, and the ever-increasing cost of raising a child.”

Further data revealed that 18,000 fewer babies were conceived in 2019 compared with the year before – the largest decrease in a decade.

A dramatic drop in the number of teen pregnancies accounted for most of the reduction, the ONS data found.

How do you get an abortion?

Abortions are only legal (and as safe as possible) if carried out by a licensed medical practitioner.

There are three main ways to do this free of charge through the NHS:

  • Speak to your GP and ask for a referral to an abortion service – your GP should refer you to another doctor if they have any objections to abortion
  • Visit a contraception clinic, family planning clinic, sexual health clinic or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic and ask for a referral to an abortion service
  • Contact an abortion provider directly – the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Marie Stopes UK and the National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service (NUPAS) can tell you about eligibility and services in your area

During the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of women were able to get abortions at home in the US.

The telemedicine abortion trend was already growing in the US before the outbreak, after a crackdown by some states saw access to care restricted, with many clinics forced to close.

The program sends women – who must be 10 weeks pregnant or less – abortion pills by mail to take on their own, after a video consultation with a certified doctor.

What happens next?

Before having an abortion an appointment to discuss the decision and the details is booked.

Generally, there are two options:

  • A medical abortion – you take two medications 24 to 48 hours apart to induce a miscarriage
  • Surgical abortion – you have a minor procedure to end the pregnancy and go home soon after

What are the potential risks of having an abortion?

Abortions are safest if carried out early on in the pregnancy.

Most women won’t experience any problems and having a termination will not affect future fertility.

There are however risks, such as:

  • Infection of the womb
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Damage to the womb or the entrance (cervix)

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