UK Abortion Law
Abortion is regulated by the Abortion Act 1967, which permits a doctor to perform an abortion if two doctors agree that there are medical grounds for it. The Act has rules about the premises where abortions may be conducted and about certifying and registering abortions.
In practice, the Department of Health allows doctors to sanction abortions without genuine medical grounds and seeks to ensure that abortion is provided in every possible case. This policy has led to a total of over 8.4 million abortions since the Act was passed, mostly for social reasons, not medical indications.
The Abortion Act does not apply in Northern Ireland, but pro-abortion groups like Amnesty and Marie Stopes are working strenuously to extend the killing there.
Most abortions in England and Wales now take place in private abortion clinics, often by groups that are registered charities, but which provide abortion on a commercial basis. They are typically funded through NHS contracts. Some abortions in England, and nearly all in Scotland, are performed in NHS hospitals. The NHS finances nearly all abortions in Britain.
Abortion has been regulated by law in the UK for many centuries. Records of several English legal cases show that abortion was certainly regarded as unlawful at common law in 17th-19th centuries, and probably from the 13th century - nearly as far back as legal records go. In 19th century, parliament consolidated the law in the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861. The 1861 Act remains the principal, underlying statute on abortion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It does not apply in Scotland, where the legal history is different, and abortion is regarded as subject to common law as well as the 1967 Abortion Act, which applies across Britain.
Legal status of abortion
Abortion remains unlawful in Britain unless the terms of the Abortion Act are fulfilled. Thus abortion is not a "right" as many pro-abortion advocates would wish. However, it is so insistently promoted by health officials that many doctors feel pressure to conform and provide abortions.
The effect of this approach is that abortion on demand is available, and the Department of Health only enforces the law so far as necessary to reduce the risks to women to what they regard as an acceptable level.
Legality of mental health abortions
In 2011 the Department of Health commissioned an independent review of medical evidence on the impact of abortion on women's mental health. This review concluded that: "The rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth." (This conclusion appears to understate the serious negative effects of abortion on mental health, but even this conclusion challenges the legality of routine abortion for "unwanted pregnancy").
Most abortions (97-98%) are certified by doctors on the grounds that continuing the pregnancy entails greater risk to the mental health of the woman than having an abortion. Often doctors say this simply because of an "unwanted pregnancy".
But the Department of Health will not tell doctors to stop the practice of certifying "unwanted pregnancy" as a mental health risk. The mental health evidence points to the conclusion that there is bad faith on the part of most doctors certifying abortions most of the time. By signing abortion forms based on false opinions, doctors are flouting the rules of the General Medical Council, the statutory regulator upholding standards in medical practice.
Despite the evidence, leading abortion practitioners have declared that an unwanted pregnancy is a threat to a woman's mental health, and that the law therefore permits abortion on the basis of "unwantedness".
SPUC is challenging the Secretary of State for Health to stop this abuse of the law and insist that doctors stop the practice of routinely mis-certifying abortion on mental health grounds. You can read more about this campaign here.