Up to 12 weeks it will be somewhat more liberal. Under the Abortion Act 1967, which regulates abortion in England and Wales, abortion on request is not permitted. The proposed new Irish law will allow abortion on request up to 12 weeks (see explanation here). However, the Abortion Act 1967 never requires a mandatory waiting/reflection period, while Irish law will require people to wait for 72 hours from making the request before having an abortion in the first 12 weeks.
After 12 weeks Irish law will be considerably more conservative: abortion will be available on far more limited grounds in Ireland, and for a far more limited time scale (up to viability only) than is the case in Britain. The only situation in which the laws will be comparable is where there is a ‘fatal foetal anomaly’.
This table compares the Abortion Act 1967 with the proposed new law to be introduced if the 8th Amendment is repealed in Ireland (General Scheme).
|Ireland (proposed law)||Time limit (IE)||Waiting period (IE)||Abortion Act 1967||Time limit (AA ’67)||Waiting period (AA ’67)|
|‘on request’||Yes||12 weeks||3 days||No||n/a||n/a|
|Risk to life||Yes||Viability of foetus||n/a||Yes||None||n/a|
|Serious risk to health (pregnant person)||Yes||Viability of foetus||n/a||Yes||None||n/a|
|Risk to health (pregnant person)||No||n/a||n/a||Yes||24 weeks||None|
|(Serious) risk to health (other children or family)||No||n/a||n/a||Yes||24 weeks||None|
|Fatal foetal anomaly||Yes||None||n/a||Yes||None||n/a|
|Non-fatal anomaly (‘disability’ ground)||No||n/a||n/a||Yes, for ‘serious’ disability||None||n/a|
Is abortion available ‘on request’ in Britain?
The Abortion Act 1967 never allows for abortion ‘on request’. A woman must always ‘qualify’ for abortion under one of the grounds laid down in the law. Except in an emergency, two doctors must always certify that the law is being complied with.
The vast majority of abortions (92%) under the Abortion Act 1967 take place under the ‘mental health’ ground. The woman must show that continuing the pregnancy would involve a risk to her mental health ‘greater than if the pregnancy were terminated’. Modern abortion performed in accordance with best medical practice is very safe. It is invariably safer than continuing with the pregnancy. This means that the mental health ground will almost always be satisfied. Some people claim that in practice the law operates as if there were abortion ‘on demand’. However, a woman’s decision must always be formally supervised by two doctors.
On what grounds is abortion available in Britain?
The Abortion Act 1967 lays down the grounds on which legal abortion is available:
- The continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman greater than if the pregnancy were terminated (Abortion Act, 1967 as amended, section 1(1)(c))
- The termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(b))
- 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 (section 1(1)(a))
- 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 any existing children of the family of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(a))
- 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 (section 1(1)(d))
What is the time limit in Britain?
In most cases abortion is available up to 24 weeks under the Abortion Act 1967, though in practice, most abortions take place well before then.
Where there is a risk to life, or a risk of “grave permanent injury” to health there are no gestational term limits for access to abortion. In reality, abortion is rarely provided in these cases where the foetus has reached viability.
Where the foetus has been diagnosed with a condition that means “if…born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” there is no gestational term limit for access to abortion.
What about cases of ‘fatal foetal anomaly’ in Britain?
Where people choose to end a pregnancy following a diagnosis of ‘fatal foetal anomaly’ the Abortion Act 1967 allows for this without imposing any time limit.
Two doctors must certify that the foetus has been diagnosed with a condition that means “if…born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped” (s. 1(1)(d), Abortion Act 1967).
There is no requirement that the diagnosis be of a lethal condition.
Doctors for Choice, Factsheet: Abortion and Mental Health