Frequently asked questions

• Do women have abortions instead of using contraception?

There is no evidence to support the assertion that women are careless about  using contraception because abortion is available. Unplanned pregnancy is a distressing situation for any woman and choosing to have an abortion can be a difficult decision. The use of contraception is continuously rising but no method  is 100 per cent effective. People’s sex lives are often unpredictable so contraception may not always be used as effectively or regularly as it might be.

• How many abortions are there in Britain?

Currently in England and Wales about 180,000 abortions are carried out a year. About 10,000 of these are for women coming from other parts of the world where abortion is not legal or is difficult to obtain – particularly particularly Ireland. About 10,000 are carried out in Scotland.
The abortion statistics are collected on behalf of the government and published by the National Statistics Office annually here.

• Does a fetus have legal rights?

No. Legal rights are granted at birth, when the mother and the baby are clearly separated and protecting the rights of the baby would not limit the rights of  the woman.

• Do women under 16 need permission from their parents/guardians to have an abortion?

No, but all patients must give their informed consent. Doctors are likely to encourage young people to involve their parents but the young person does not  have to if the doctor believes they fully understand the implications of their decision. Doctors must keep information about patients, including under-16s, confidential, unless disclosure is to protect the patient, or someone else, from the risk of significant harm, or if they are required to do so by a court.

• Can a woman’s partner prevent her from having an abortion?

No. In a few cases men have taken their partner to court to try to prevent her having  an abortion. All their cases have failed. Judges have stressed that a man does not  have the right either to stop his partner having an abortion or force her to have one.

• Do doctors and hospitals have to provide abortion services?

Although abortion is legal there is no law which requires the NHS to provide abortions. Where sufficient NHS services are not available many women can only  get abortions if they pay for them. The Department of Health encourages Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and the relevant medical authorities to improve both the speed and quality of NHS-funded provision. The overall percentage of NHS-funded abortions in England and Wales rose from 50 per cent in 1991 to 78 per cent in  2002; however, there are still wide variations throughout the country, ranging from more than 90 per cent in some areas to less than 60 per cent in others.

Even in areas with good service provision, women may be obstructed by doctors who do not agree with abortion. A 1999 Marie Stopes International (MSI) survey found that about 18 per cent of GPs were opposed to abortion in some way.

• Do women in the UK have a ‘right’ to an abortion?

Women in Britain do not have a right to abortion on request. However, most people believe that they can get an abortion just by asking for one. Even if a woman has been raped she is not automatically entitled to an abortion. She has to convince two doctors that continuing with the pregnancy would have a worse effect on her mental or physical health, or on that of her existing children, than having a termination.