McAfee SECURE sites help keep you safe from identity theft, credit card fraud, spyware, spam, viruses and online scams

Abortion Law

1. Introduction

Until 1803 the only law relating to abortion was the common law and under English common law, provided the abortion was carried out before the women could feel the baby move, it was considered morally and legally acceptable. Abortion however was made a crime in 1803 and since then the law has been entirely statutory. From Lord Ellenborough's Act 1803 through to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and it's amendment of the law relating to the termination of pregnancy, regulation of abortion in the United Kingdom has reflected a social and political context from which it has been legalised. While there is a polarity of views on the question of abortion and a suggestion that muddle and self-contradiction have marked the attitudes and policies towards abortion, the purpose of this paper will be to deliberate solely on the law. Hence this paper will begin by looking at current abortion law and then consider the history behind present-day legislation. This paper will then conclude by examining the issue of abortion of disabled foetus'. Once again, whilst the issue of abortion on the grounds of fetal abnormality has been referred to as eugenic in nature, the ethics of the issue will not be discussed and only the law will be examined.

2. The Present Law on Abortion

The present legislation on abortion comprises the Offences against the Person Act 1861, Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, Abortion Act 1967, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (hereafter the 'HFEA 1990') and the Abortion Regulations 1991, SI 1991/499. Specifically, the law relating to abortion means s.58 and s.59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and any rule of law relating to the procurement of an abortion.

'Women vary in their reaction to being told that their fetus is, or may be, abnormal. Occasionally a woman feels strongly that she is unable to accept a probability of risk or a degree of handicap that her medical practitioners consider less than substantial or serious. Under such circumstances, and only when the gestation is less than 24 weeks, the practitioners may decide that abortion has become necessary to protect her mental health.'

Finally, the wording contained within the 1967 makes it clear that a medical opinion formed in good faith is sufficient to satisfy the legal requirements. Thus it may be strongly argued that a substantial risk of serious handicap need not actually exist provided that two doctors are willing to certify in good faith that it does indeed exist.

Related Links
To Top