When was abortion legalised in UK? Laws explained


The recent ruling in America ending constitutional abortion rights has sparked mass protests

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Speaking at a news conference in Kigali, Johnson said: “I have always believed in women’s right to vote and I remain a believer and that is why Britain has the laws it has.”


What are abortion laws in the UK?

The Abortion Act 1967 applies to Scotland, England and Wales but not to Northern Ireland.


The law states that an abortion can be performed during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy as long as two doctors agree that the abortion would pose less of a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman (or that of her children) than continuing the pregnancy .

The law also says that an abortion can be performed later in a pregnancy if:

  • It is necessary to save the woman’s life
  • It aims to prevent serious permanent damage to the physical or mental health of pregnant women
  • There is a significant risk that the child will be born with severe disabilities

The law requires two doctors to verify that abortion law requirements are met, and health services to advise women on why they want an abortion.

What are Abortion Laws in Northern Ireland?


In Northern Ireland, abortion was decriminalized and subsequently legalized in October 2019, with a new framework for lawful abortion services coming into effect in late March 2020.

Abortions are permitted without restriction for up to 12 weeks and up to 24 weeks if continuing the pregnancy would result in mental or physical damage to the woman or girl that is greater than the risk of an abortion.


There is no time limit for an abortion in situations where the fetus is significantly affected, including when death is likely to occur before, during, or shortly after birth.

Pro-abortion protesters march through the streets of Belfast in Belfast on October 21, 2019 (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

The 24-week limit is waived in cases where the risk of death or serious permanent injury to the woman or girl is greater than the risk of termination, or where it is necessary to prevent serious physical or mental harm, including immediate necessity such as during childbirth.


Only medical professionals are allowed to perform abortions, such as practicing doctors, nurses and midwives.

An abortion can be performed in a general practitioner’s office, in a health and social care facility, or at home using abortion pills – these can only be used for the second stage of early termination of pregnancy.


Although abortion was legalized in 2019, abortion services remain limited in Northern Ireland.

In addition, abortion remains a criminal offense under the Crimes Against the Person Act 1861 where a woman terminates her own pregnancy without the consent of two doctors.


How is an abortion performed?

There are two ways an abortion is handled:

A pro-choice demonstrator holds a sign in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC on May 11, 2022 (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
  • A medical abortion, known as an “abortion pill,” where you take two drugs, usually 24 hours apart, to induce an abortion
  • Surgical abortion, where you have a procedure to remove the pregnancy

The NHS says that after a person has had an abortion they should rest for a few days.

“It is likely that you will experience mild discomfort and vaginal bleeding for up to 2 weeks,” he said NHS says.