Abortion: the law and facts

The current British law on abortion states that:

“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 of the pregnancy 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
(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.”
The law lays out several possible justifications for an abortion:

A The continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman greater than if the pregnancy were terminated;
B The termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman;
C 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;
D The continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of any existing child(ren) of the family of the pregnant woman;
E 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;
Or in an emergency:
F To save the life of the pregnant woman; or
G To prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.”

By far the most common justification for abortion is ground C – sometimes referred to as “social reasons”. Others are relatively rare (the next most frequent justification is disability). The full data for 2015 can be viewed on the Department of Health website.

Key facts

In 2015, 191,014 abortions were carried out in England & Wales. 5,190 of these were performed on women non-resident in England & Wales (66% of were from the Irish Republic, and 16% from Northern Ireland.)
The abortion rate was highest for women aged 21, at 28.7 per 1000 women. From five regions in England & Wales, London had the highest abortion rate, at 21 per 1000 women.

More than a third of all women having abortions -38%- had undergone one or more abortions; 27% had undergone one previous abortion, 8% had undergone two previous abortions, and 3% had undergone three or more previous abortions.

Just over four-fifths – 81% – of all abortions were carried out for single women.

Almost all abortions, 98%, in England &Wales are funded by the NHS; of those funded by the NHS, 68% take place in the independent sector (e.g. in BPAS clinics, Marie Stopes etc) under NHS contract.

The vast majority of abortions – 98%, 181,231 – were carried out under Ground C (“risk … of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman”), the vast majority of which (99.5%) were for risk to the mental health of the pregnant woman.

The number for Ground E (“substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”) was 3,213. Nearly half of these were for congenital malformations and 37% (1,179) were for chromosomal disorders (including 21%, 689, for Down’s Syndrome).

There were 3 abortions carried out under Grounds F and G (“to save the life of the pregnant woman” and “to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman”).

Just over half of all women, 54% having abortions had been pregnant before (resulting in a live or stillbirth). This has risen from 47% in 2005.

Over half (55%) of all abortions were carried out medically i.e. with an abortion pill. This is a rise from 51% in 2014. 2015 is the second year that more medical abortions were carried out than surgical abortions.
92% of abortions took place under 13 weeks’ gestation. A total of 230 (0.1%) abortions took place past the 24 week mark (6 months’ gestation).

Complications were reported in 294 cases in 2015, a rate of about 1 in every 630 abortion. In 2014 the rate was about 1 in 550.

In 2014, there were 119 abortions that were “selective reductions.” Selective reductions are when a fertility treatment procedure, such as IVF, results in the implanting of multiple embryos in the womb and parents wish to reduce the number of babies.

86% of women having abortions in 2015 were offered chlamydia screening, up from 65% in 2002 The figure for women aged under 25 is slightly higher (90%).


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One person is talking about Abortion: the law and facts

  1. Tory says:

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