Current abortion laws

There is pressure growing inside Westminster to change current abortion laws but what is the legal situation right now?

Abortion laws in the UK are detailed below. For more detailed information about current proposals and their consequences click the button at the bottom of this page.

1. Offences Against the Person Act

The  Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA) protects children in-utero by making abortion a criminal offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in these sections:

  • Section 58: A woman is guilty of an offence if she unlawfully procures her own miscarriage
  • Section 59: Anyone who supplies drugs or instruments to be unlawfully used to procure abortion is guilty of an offence
  • Section 60: Anyone who secretly disposes of a child who died before, at, or after birth is guilty of an offence

2. Infant Life (Preservation) & Criminal Justice Acts

The Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 of England and Wales makes it illegal to intentionally “destroy the life of a child capable of being born alive” (fetal viability was set at 28 weeks).

Section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act 1945 independently upholds the same law in Northern Ireland.

3. Abortion Act

The Abortion Act 1967 states: ‘a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion’ [i.e. sections 58 and 59 of the OAPA] if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • Up to 24 weeks:
    • to reduce the risk of harm to the physical/mental health of the mother or any of her existing children.
  • Up to birth:
    • to prevent grave harm to the mental/physical health of the mother;
    • to reduce the risk to the mother’s life;
    • if the baby will be ‘seriously handicapped’.