The Government’s proposal is that abortion will be available
- On request up to 12 weeks, subject to a 3-day waiting period;
- Up to viability of the foetus: where two doctors certify that there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman;
- Up to viability of the foetus: where two doctors certify that there is a risk of serious harm to the health of the pregnant woman;
- Where two doctors certify that there has been a diagnosis of ‘fatal foetal anomaly’;
- When needed in an emergency.
It will never be a crime for a woman to have an abortion.
It will be a crime for someone to carry out an abortion except in line with the new law.
Abortion ‘on request’
Abortion will be available ‘on request’ up to 12 weeks LMP, which is usually 9-10 weeks post-conception.
Once a doctor has certified that the pregnancy is under 12 weeks, the woman will have to wait 3 days before having an abortion.
That abortion might be either surgical or medical (i.e. using abortion pills) depending on the agreed course of treatment between the woman and her doctor.
Abortion up to 12 weeks will largely be GP-led. That means that a woman will attend a GP, request an abortion, have the length of her pregnancy confirmed, wait three days, and then, if she still wants to, have an abortion.
GPs with a conscientious objection will be able to opt out (see explanation here).
See a fuller explanation of early abortion on request in the proposed law here.
Abortion from 12 weeks to viability
Once a pregnancy has passed 12 weeks LMP, lawful abortion will only be available where there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman, a risk of serious harm to her health, or a ‘fatal foetal anomaly’.
In each case, two doctors will have to certify that the legal conditions for abortion are met.
Lawful abortion in cases of risk to life and serious risk to health will only be available until ‘viability’.
According to the proposed law, viability is “the point in a pregnancy at which, in the reasonable opinion of a medical practitioner, the foetus is capable of sustained survival outside the uterus”. Two doctors must certify that the foetus is not viable.
GPs with a conscientious objection will be able to opt out of providing abortion on these grounds after 12 weeks (see explanation here).
Abortion after viability
The proposed law only permits abortion after viability in situations of ‘fatal foetal anomaly’.
Two doctors must certify that the foetus has been diagnosed with a condition “that is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before birth or shortly after birth”.
Many conditions of this kind are only diagnosed at or after a 20-week scan.
Later abortion in these cases usually takes place by stopping the foetal heartbeat and then inducing labour in the pregnant person so that the pregnancy ends in a stillbirth. The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has produced this information on termination of pregnancy in cases of ‘fatal foetal anomaly’ in England, Scotland and Wales.
GPs with a conscientious objection will be able to opt out of providing abortion in cases of ‘fatal foetal anomaly’ (see explanation here).
Abortion in an Emergency
Doctors will be allowed to carry out abortion in an emergency if:
- There is an immediate risk to the woman’s life, or an immediate risk of serious harm to her health; and
- It is necessary to bring the pregnancy to an immediate end
This decision can be made by one doctor, who must certify that these conditions are met either before carrying out the procedure or, if time does not allow that, within 72 hours.
When will abortion not be allowed?
Up to 12 weeks pregnant people can have an abortion without explaining their reasons under the new law.
After 12 weeks abortion is limited to cases of risk to life, risk of serious harm to health, and fatal foetal anomaly. Thus, abortion will not be permitted for:
- The ordinary risk to health inherent in every pregnancy (unlike the English Abortion Act 1967)
- Reasons of sex selection
- Disability (except for conditions likely to lead to foetal death before or shortly after birth)
- Socio-Economic reasons
Will women be able to refuse consent to an abortion?
Yes. The proposed new law makes it clear that the usual requirement that every adult is entitled to refuse consent to medical treatment will apply in full.