Definition:-The intention to terminate a pregnancy resulting in the death of the fetus or embryo.

Much of the controversies arise when determining as under what circumstances, if any, it is acceptable to abort a fetus.

Legality of Abortions

Clarification over what circumstances were justified as reasons for abortion came about firstly by The Abortion Act in 1967 which was later amended by The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990.

The Abortion Act 1967

Agreement is needed between two registered medical practitioners on at least one of the following:-

  • The pregnancy is less than 24 weeks gestation and that continuing with the pregnancy poses a greater risk than termination to the physical or mental health of the mother, or any of her existing children or family.
  • The termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.
  • Continuing the pregnancy involves risk to the life of the woman than if the pregnancy was terminated.
  • That the child is at substantial risk of carrying physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

The last three points is aimed at covering pregnancies over 24 weeks and where the pregnancy poses a serious risk of morbidity or mortality to the mother, or to the long term health of the future child.

Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990

  • The Abortion Act was amended in 1990 to allow abortions up to birth where there was a risk of serious foetal handicap, or where continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman (or to prevent grave permanent injury to her physical or mental health.
  • In late abortions, a doctor should terminate the foetus within the uterus. If the foetus is alive outside the uterus it may acquire the legal protection of any newborn baby. Killing it may be murder
  • The Act also allowed selective abortion (i.e. multiple foetuses from superovulation)

Under common law

  • Paton vs BPAS (1978): The father does not have any rights to prevent an abortion.
  • Re F (in utero) (1988): The courts cannot violate the autonomy of the mother even if her actions may damage the foetus.

  • Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008
  • The Parental Orders (Human Fertilisation and Embryology) Regulations 2010
  • Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 (c.49)
  • Bromham DR, Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics 12 (8) 1995 "Surrogacy: Ethical, Legal, and Social Aspects"
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: Male and Female sterilisation Guidelines 2004
  • Recommendations on Ethical Issues in Obstetrics and Gynaecology (FIGO 2000)