Abortion Act 1967
|Long title||An Act to amend and clarify the law relating to termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners.|
|Citation||1967 c. 87|
|Introduced by||David Steel|
|Territorial extent||England and Wales; Scotland|
|Royal assent||27 October 1967|
|Commencement||27 April 1968|
|Amended by||The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
|Revised text of statute as amended|
The Abortion Act 1967 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom legalising abortions by registered practitioners, and regulating the free provision of such medical practices through the National Health Service (NHS).
It was introduced by David Steel as a Private Member's Bill, but was backed by the government, who appointed the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Sir John Peel, to chair a medical advisory committee that reported in favour of passing the bill.
After a further heated political and moral debate, under a free vote it was passed on 27 October 1967, coming into effect on 27 April 1968.
The Act made abortion legal in all of Great Britain (but not Northern Ireland) up to 24 weeks' gestation. In 1990, the law was amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act so that abortion was no longer legal after 24 weeks except in cases where it was necessary to save the life of the woman, there was evidence of extreme fetal abnormality, or there was a grave risk of physical or mental injury to the woman.
Abortion laws in the United Kingdom appear stricter than those countries where abortion is available entirely on demand, as the health of the mother must be taken into account. However, as abortion before 24 weeks involves considerably less medical risk than carrying the baby to term, it is very rare for this restriction to take effect.
In May 2008, there was a parliamentary debate over whether the limit should be reduced from 24 to either 22 or 20 weeks but no changes were made.
The Act does not extend to Northern Ireland, where abortion is illegal unless the doctor acts "only to save the life of the mother" or if continuing the pregnancy would result in the pregnant woman becoming a "physical or mental wreck." The situation is the same as it was in England before the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967. The Offences against the Person Act 1861 and the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 remain in full force.
- UK Parliament Inquiry: Scientific developments relating to the Abortion Act 1967, House of Commons Press Notice, 20 June 2007.