8th September, 202210 min read

How to get an abortion in the UK

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Disclaimer: The legal status of abortion may vary depending on the country of your residence and may be illegal. For example, in the United States, the right to abortion is no longer protected by the Constitution. This means that individual states are now able to decide their own abortion laws.

If you’re thinking about having an abortion – sometimes known as terminating a pregnancy – you’re far from alone, as 1 in 3 UK women will have had one by the age of 45.

Although some religions and cultures believe abortion is wrong, abortion is legal in the UK if it meets the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act.

‘The decision to have an abortion is entirely yours and is legal in the UK, provided certain criteria are met, like being under 24 weeks pregnant,’ says Healthily GP, Dr Ann Nainan.

‘Abortions should always be done under the supervision of a licensed healthcare professional. It is illegal and dangerous to buy abortion pills online because you can’t know whether they are genuine and they may be harmful to you.

‘It’s natural to feel confused, overwhelmed or even a mixture of different feelings. There are lots of support options like speaking to your doctor or contacting a support group.

‘At Healthily we provide you with the medical facts about your

options
and how you can access abortion methods legally and safely.’

Abortion law in the UK

Abortion has been legal in England, Wales and Scotland since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967. Here’s what you need to know.

Terminating a pregnancy under 24 weeks

You can have an abortion at up to 23 weeks and 6 days of your pregnancy. If you are less than 24 weeks pregnant, 2 doctors must agree that:

  • continuing the pregnancy would be harmful to your physical or mental health, or any children you already have
  • an abortion would be less risky than continuing the pregnancy, or
  • there is substantial risk that if the child was born they would suffer mental abnormality or serious physical handicap.
    Two doctors must certify that the legal grounds for abortion are met, but they don’t have to meet the woman in person.

Abortion when the baby’s or mother’s health is in danger

In limited circumstances, you may be able to have an abortion after 24 weeks. For instance, if the fetus has a severe or fatal abnormality and will be seriously handicapped mentally or physically (a defect that means the baby will die before or after birth), or if the mother’s life is in danger. When it comes to Down's Syndrome and abortion law, under the current law if a fetus has Down's Syndrome, the pregnancy may be terminated after 24 weeks.

Abortion law in Northern Ireland

Abortion was legalised in Northern Ireland in 2019. Here’s the lowdown.

Abortion is legal under 12 weeks

Terminating a pregnancy in Northern Ireland is now unconditionally legal until 12 weeks of pregnancy. But despite abortion being legal, the reality is that it can be difficult to access in Northern Ireland. After 12 weeks abortions are legal in specific instances such as when there is severe fetal impairment or fatal fetal abnormalities. But at the time of writing, abortion services in Northern Ireland haven’t been fully commissioned and many women still have to travel to England for abortion.

Abortion pills in Northern Ireland

Although the abortion pill (or medical abortion) is available via a doctor in some (but not all) areas of Northern Ireland for pregnancies less than 10 weeks, the reality is that many women still have to travel to England for an abortion after 10 weeks. You can get support for covering the cost as the UK government has committed to funding the cost of abortion care for women from Northern Ireland who travel to England for treatment. Your travel expenses will be covered – for example, flights and taxi – and overnight accommodation.

If you are more than 10 weeks pregnant and you want an abortion in Northern Ireland, call MSI Reproductive Choices on 0333 234 2184.

How to get an abortion pill or surgery in the UK

You can only get an abortion in the UK from an NHS hospital or a licensed clinic.

These are the routes available:

Whichever route you take, you will have a medical assessment. Find out more about what’s involved here.

How long will I have to wait for an abortion?

This can vary but you shouldn’t have to wait longer than 2 weeks from the time you (or a doctor) first gets in touch with an abortion provider. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that women should be able to have an abortion within a week of their clinical assessment.

How much does an abortion pill or surgery cost?

Abortion is available free on the NHS, but if you decide to pay privately the price can vary depending on how far along your pregnancy is. With MSI United Kingdom, for medical abortion you can expect to pay £551 in total for an initial consultation and treatment. For a surgical abortion with MSI United Kingdom, your initial consultation is £168, with the procedure itself costing between £1060 and £2657, depending on what stage of pregnancy you’re at.

These prices are correct as of August 2022 but they may be subject to change so it always best to check with your abortion provider first.

When is the abortion pill the best option?

The abortion pill is usually the best and most effective option in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. If you’re 8 weeks pregnant, it works between 94 and 98 in 100 times. At 10 to 11 weeks pregnant, the abortion pill works 87 out of 100 times. If it doesn’t work, you can be given more pills and then it works 98 out of 100 times.

You might prefer the abortion pill to surgical abortion because you don’t need to go to a clinic or hospital to have it. You may be able to take it at home and choose who, or if, you want someone there to support you. You may also prefer the abortion pill because it’s non-invasive.

Watch this BPAS video to learn more about using the abortion pill after 10 weeks.

Can you use the abortion pill at home?

If you live in England, Wales or Scotland and you’re 10 weeks pregnant or less, you may fit the criteria for being prescribed the

abortion pill
, which you can receive by post and take at home after a medical assessment. The medical assessment can be done on the phone or via video link. It is a safe and legal way to end a pregnancy.

In Northern Ireland, current regulations don’t allow women the option of taking abortion pills at home.

When would you need a surgical abortion?

If you are more than 10 weeks pregnant your doctor will help you decide between having a medical or a surgical abortion. A surgical abortion can be over quicker than a medical abortion but it involves a small operation. Sometimes you will need a general anaesthetic. Your doctor will discuss the benefits and risks of the different procedures, taking into account how many weeks pregnant you are, your personal preference and any underlying conditions you have.

If you choose to have a medical abortion after 10 weeks, you’ll usually need to take the medicines at the clinic to be monitored and you may be able to go home on the same day, or stay overnight. If you choose a surgical abortion you’ll normally be able to go home the same day. Read about the different methods of surgical abortion

here
.

Do you need to tell your GP you have had an abortion?

No you don’t, you have a right to confidentiality. All NHS staff have a legal duty to protect your confidential information. Your abortion provider is not required to tell your GP either, but some may want to in order to arrange aftercare for you – they can’t do this without your consent. If you don’t want your GP to know, you should tell the staff arranging your abortion.

If you are under 16 do you have to tell your parents you’ve had an abortion?

  • if you are under 13, doctors usually need to involve a social worker and other professionals to ensure you are safe and protected
  • if you are 14-16 you have a right to confidentiality, but you will be encouraged to involve your parents or another supportive adult
  • if you’re 14-16 and you choose not to involve your parents or another supportive adult, a doctor can offer you an abortion as long as they think:
  • you can give valid consent. That means have understood the advice you’ve been given and the risks and benefits of the procedure
    it’s in your best interests
  • if staff suspect you’re at risk of serious sexual abuse or harm, they are obliged to involve social services. They would usually discuss this with you first

Where to find emotional support to cope with abortion

If you need help at any point during the abortion process, find out more

here
on where to get advice and support.

The charity

Antenatal Results and Choices
can give you information and support via their helpline 020 7713 7486 if you have to make a decision about continuing or ending a pregnancy in cases of fetal abnormality or chromosomal abnormalities such as Down’s Syndrome
MSI Reproductive Choices International (MSI)
and the
British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS)
also offer counselling about all the options open to you

Everyone is unique and your experience may well be different to someone else’s experiences. If you are worried about your mental health, see a doctor urgently. There are charities and trained healthcare professionals like counsellors who can help you.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you want to chat through any questions or concerns you have such as checking how many weeks pregnant you are if you’re not sure, finding out what your options are or if you’re experiencing anxiety or low mood.

Abortion clinics have specialist counsellors who can talk through your options and help you make the right decision for you. If you think you want to go ahead with the pregnancy but you're struggling with low mood or anxiety, your doctor can refer you for specialist counselling – through your local perinatal mental health team, for example – or assess if you need medication for depression.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.