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Know Your Abortion Rights in the UK

Abortion has been legal in the UK since 1967, but there are still laws and regulations in place that determine when you can end a pregnancy. It is important to be aware of your rights so that you can get the care that you need when you are pregnant and considering abortion.

When is Abortion Legal in the UK?

You can have an abortion in the UK up to 23 weeks and 6 days into the pregnancy. Abortions can only be performed later than this if there is a significant risk to your life or a fatal foetal abnormality is detected.

Although the legal limit for abortions is 24 weeks, it is important to be aware that there are other limits on the type of abortion you can have. Abortion clinics often set their own time limits at less than 24 weeks because of the types of terminations that they can perform. For example, at 132 Healthwise we perform terminations up to 19 weeks.

Medical abortions (using the abortion pill) are usually only performed up to 9 weeks. After this, you can have a surgical abortion. Different surgical procedures can be used at different stages in the pregnancy, but the procedure is simpler and less likely to cause complications if you have the abortion early.

Legal Reasons for Having an Abortion in the UK

The UK abortion laws set out the reasons why terminations can be performed. You will discuss your reasons during the initial consultation at the abortion clinic. The doctor will ensure that you fit into at least one of the following categories before agreeing to perform the abortion.

You can have an abortion in the UK before 24 weeks because:

  • Continuing with the pregnancy would put your life at risk
  • There is a risk of injury to your mental or physical health
  • There is a risk of injury to the mental or physical health of any existing children in your family
  • The child would be born with a serious mental or physical abnormality

The doctor can take into account your social and financial circumstances when considering the impact that continuing with the pregnancy would have on you.

Other Legal Rights and Requirements

  • In order to have an abortion in the UK, two doctors must agree that you meet the requirements set out in law. You can see your GP first to get a referral letter or ask the abortion clinic to arrange both doctors.
  • Doctors can refuse to sign off on abortions if they have moral objections to the procedure, but if your GP does this they must refer you to another doctor who is willing to help.
  • You always have a right to confidentiality when you seek medical care. The doctor won’t be able to tell anyone that you are pregnant or that you’ve had an abortion, without your permission. Your medical records will also be protected.

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