Under the Government’s proposed legislation, (for more detail see here) pregnant people would be entitled to request abortion from a GP up to 12 weeks ‘LMP’. 12 weeks. ‘LMP’ is the standard mechanism of dating pregnancy. 12 weeks LMP is usually 9-10 weeks since conception.
A GP would have to certify that the pregnancy is within the 12 week limit.
A pregnant person would then have to take a 72 hour (3 day) ‘waiting period’, following which the GP must provide abortion ‘as soon as may be’ once that time has elapsed.
A woman would not be required to justify her reason for accessing abortion.
The time limit
Abortion ‘on request’ will be available up until 12 weeks of pregnancy, to be defined as 12 weeks ‘from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period’.
The role of the doctor
Under the proposed new law, the role of the doctor is (i) to certify that the pregnancy is within the time limit, (ii) to impose a 72-hour waiting period between the time of consultation and the time of providing abortion care, and (iii) to make arrangements for the provision of abortion, if the pregnant person still wants it, ‘as soon as may be’ once the waiting period has elapsed. This may be either by prescribing medication abortion pills, or by providing surgical abortion, as appropriate.
Doctors will be entitled to opt out of providing abortion care (including certifying gestation) if they have a conscientious objection. In such a case, the doctor is obliged to make arrangements for the pregnant person’s care to be transferred to another practitioner who does not have such an objection (see explanation here).
The waiting period
Under the proposed new law, once a pregnant person has requested an abortion and a doctor is satisfied that she is within the time limit, she must ‘wait’ for 72 hours to actually have an abortion. The doctor must certify that the pregnancy will still be within the time limit once the 72 hour waiting period is over.
Does the woman have to justify why she is having an abortion?
No. The law will not require a woman to ‘qualify’ for abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is likely that a pregnant person would discuss the reasons for abortion with her GP as part of her ordinary course of medical treatment, but the GP would not be a ‘gatekeeper’ under the new abortion law before 12 week. A woman would not be required to explain or discuss these reasons but she could do so if she wanted to, or if she felt it would help her to make a decision if she discussed her circumstances with her doctor.
What is different from the current law?
Without repeal of the 8th Amendment, lawful abortion is permitted only where a pregnant person’s life is at risk, and up until viability (i.e. the point at which the foetus is likely to be able to survive outside the womb). The Government’s proposed law would be a significant change from that, allowing for abortion in very early pregnancy on the request of the pregnant person. As long as the pregnancy was within the time limit, a healthcare professional could not prevent an abortion from taking place.
Head 7: Early pregnancy (12 weeks)
7. (1) It shall be lawful to carry out a termination of pregnancy in accordance with this Head where a medical practitioner certifies, that in his or her reasonable opinion formed in good faith, the pregnancy concerned has not exceeded 12 weeks of pregnancy.
(2) It shall be necessary for 72 hours to elapse between the time of the certification referred to in subhead (1) and the termination of pregnancy being carried out.
(3) The medical practitioner referred to in subhead (1) shall make such arrangements as he or she shall deem to be necessary for the carrying out of the termination of pregnancy as soon as may be after the period referred to in subhead (2) has elapsed but before the pregnancy has exceeded 12 weeks of pregnancy.
(4) For the purposes of this Head, ―12 weeks of pregnancy‖ shall be construed in accordance with the medical principle that pregnancy is dated from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period.