What are the rules for at-home abortions in England and Wales?

·3-min read
Abortion is legal in the UK but only on certain grounds (AFP via Getty Images)
Abortion is legal in the UK but only on certain grounds (AFP via Getty Images)

Women in England and Wales will continue to be able to take at-home abortion pills during the first 10 weeks of their pregnancy.

The permanent change in the rules, which took effect on Tuesday August 30, follows a temporary relaxation during the first Covid lockdown in March 2020.

Previously women had had to take the first pill under medical supervision; however, MPs voted in March for access to at-home abortions to continue.

Women are required to have a digital consultation with their doctor, who must record the place of termination, the place of consultation and whether it was fully remote.

Find out everything you need to know about the rules for the procedure in the UK.

When was abortion legalised in the UK and Ireland?

The Abortion Act 1967 legalised abortion – on certain grounds – in England, Wales and Scotland, and came into effect on April 27, 1968.

In 2018, Ireland legalised abortion on certain grounds up 12 weeks’ gestation or later if the woman’s life or health is at risk.

Abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland in 2019 and in March 2020 regulations introducing a new legal framework for abortion services in Northern Ireland came into force.

Is abortion a criminal act in the UK?

Abortion is still a criminal act in the UK if it is carried out without a doctor and without the approval of two doctors.

A woman who has an abortion without the permission of two doctors can face criminal punishment, with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment.

When can you have an abortion in the UK?

In 1991, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill lowered the gestation limit for abortions from 28 weeks to 24 weeks. Abortions can only be carried out after 24 weeks in limited circumstances, such as if the woman’s life is at risk or if the child would be born with a severe disability.

Do two doctors need to approve abortions in the UK?

The Abortion Act states that two doctors have to approve abortions and agree that it would be better for the woman’s physical or mental health to terminate the pregnancy.

What are the rules on abortion pills in the UK?

In 2018, a new rule allowed women in England and Wales to take the second of the two abortion pills – called misoprostol – at home. Scotland allowed this in October 2017.

In March 2020, due to the Covid pandemic, women were allowed to take both abortion medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, at home. The Government decided in February 2022 to end this arrangement after a transition period that would conclude on August 29. However, an amendment was subsequently passed in Parliament to extend at-home abortion permanently from August 30.

How many abortions take place in the UK each year?

In 2021, there were 214,256 abortions carried out in England and Wales, which is the highest number since the Abortion Act was introduced, and 99% of abortions were funded by the NHS.

In England and Wales 87% of abortions in 2021 were medically induced as opposed to surgically.

Could buffer zones around abortion clinics be introduced?

Medical leaders have called for buffer zones around abortion clinics to be introduced to prevent protesters from disturbing patients and staff. The legally protected spaces would shield people from harassment from anti-abortion campaigners.

In May, the government said it was reviewing the issue in England and Wales, while Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government was "actively considering" how it can legislate on the issue.