England, Scotland and Wales:

For many years, there has been a legal defence for abortion when a mother’s life is at risk. The history of abortion regulations in England, Scotland and Wales began its modern trajectory with the Abortion Act of 1967. This act legalised abortion on a number of grounds, up to an implied 28 weeks’ gestation. This time frame was determined by the Infant Life (Preservation) Act of 1929, which prohibited abortions of foetuses deemed capable of being born alive – a criterion met at 28 weeks. 

In 1990, the landscape shifted with the introduction of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. This legislation reduced the gestational limit for abortions to 24 weeks, a change backed by MPs due to medical advancements that improved survival rates of prematurely born infants. This Act also removed the 28-week restriction for abortions in cases of severe” foetal disabilities, permitting such abortions until birth. Additionally, it amended provisions for situations where a woman’s life faced severe and permanent mental or physical risk, allowing abortion up to birth. In 2008, efforts to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act emerged, aiming to decrease the abortion limit to 22, 20, 16, or 12 weeks. However, none of these suggestions were adopted. 

In summary:

Up to 24 weeks: Abortions performed under Ground C: That the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24th 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.” 

Post 24 weeks: Abortion is allowed up to birth in specific situations, such as when there is a risk to the mother’s life, or to prevent grave, permanent injury to the mother’s health (physical and/​or mental health) or the child might be born with a disability (“as to be seriously handicapped” – 1990 legislation).


Although the Scotland Act of 2016 made abortion a devolved issue, Scotland continues to adhere to the 1967 Abortion Act, thereby aligning with the same regulations as England and Wales.

Northern Ireland:

The rules governing abortion in Northern Ireland were more restrictive between 1967 and 2019. Abortion was prohibited unless the mother’s life was at risk. This changed in 2019, when Westminster introduced legislation legalising abortion, despite abortion being a devolved issue and facing significant opposition across Northern Ireland.

The Executive Formation (Northern Ireland) Act 2019, decriminalised abortion, and a new abortion régime was introduced. This new régime allows abortion in the following circumstances:

Up to 12 weeks: For any reason (no reasons are required or recorded).

12 – 24 weeks: Unspecified mental or physical health reasons.

Up to birth: For a disability (this is not defined and could include minor conditions such as cleft lip or club foot).

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Act (Northern Ireland) 2023 introduced buffer zones around premises that provide abortion. This legislation prohibits anti-abortion protests and other specified behaviour. It is an offence to do anything, intentionally or recklessly, in a safe access zone which has the effect of influencing a person attending an abortion clinic or other protected premises for protected purposes. There is no defence.”

Eight such zones are now established across all five health trusts.

In June, the Relationships and Sexuality Education Regulations 2023 introduced a UN CEDAW Committee (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) recommendation into law, that young people at key stage three and four should receive age-appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights covering prevention of early pregnancy and access to abortion”.

"“The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism.” – Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the US"
"“When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.” – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815–1902"