Facebook pixel

Legislation

History of UK Abortion Law

Abortion is a devolved issue in the United Kingdom. This means that each country has the power to decide their own law. 

Abortion in England and Wales is governed by 3 key laws: 

  1. Offences Against the Persons Act 1861
  2. Infant Life Preservation Act 1929
  3. Abortion Act 1967

Sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act underpin all UK Abortion law. This law establishes the taking of a life in the womb as an offence against a person. Anyone who attempts to “procure a miscarriage” or provide any “poison” or “instruments”  to perform an abortion could receive a sentence of life imprisonment. 

The 1929 Infant Life Preservation Act was written to provide one exemption for “destroying the life of a child capable of being born alive” (i.e performing an abortion). This is to “preserve the life of the mother”

The 1967 Abortion Act was written to provide further specific exemptions and grounds for performing an abortion (see below). If, however, an abortion is performed outside these grounds, then an offence has been committed under the Infant Life Preservation Act 1929 and the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861. The maximum sentence of which is life imprisonment.

 

Abortion Act 1967

"An Act to amend and clarify the law relating to termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners."

The full Abortion Act 1967 can be viewed on the legislation.gov.uk website.

We have given you the first provision here:

1   Medical Termination of Pregnancy

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith—

(a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or

(b) that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or

(c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or

(d) that 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

(2) In determining whether the continuance of a pregnancy would involve such risk of injury to health as is mentioned in paragraph (a) or (bof subsection (1) of this section, account may be taken of the pregnant woman’s actual or reasonably foreseeable environment

(3) Except as provided by subsection (4) of this section, any treatment for the termination of pregnancy must be carried out in a hospital vested in the Secretary of State for the purposes of his functions under the National Health Service Act 2006]or the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 or in a hospital vested in ..a National Health Service trust or an NHS foundation trust or in a place approved for the purposes of this section by the Secretary of State

(3A) The power under subsection (3) of this section to approve a place includes power, in relation to treatment consisting primarily in the use of such medicines as may be specified in the approval and carried out in such manner as may be so specified, to approve a class of places

(4) Subsection (3) of this section, and so much of subsection (1) as relates to the opinion of two registered medical practitioners, shall not apply to the termination of a pregnancy by a registered medical practitioner in a case where he is of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the termination is immediately necessary to save the life or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman

 

To continue reading the other provisions: Abortion Act 1967