A summary of laws relating to abortion
The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 (CS&A) sets up the Abortion Supervisory Committee which reports annually to Parliament.
It restricts where abortions may be performed. For pregnancies under 12 weeks these may be carried out in a licensed clinic and for pregnancies over 12 weeks these must be carried out in a licensed hospital. The Act defines the type of licences for premises and the Abortion Supervisory Committee issues the licences.
The Abortion Supervisory Committee sets up and maintains the list of certifying consultants who may approve abortions and oversees the availability and quality of services. Counselling services must be available.
The Act outlines the procedures to be adopted by a woman seeking an abortion. First she will see her own doctor, usually her general practitioner or a family planning doctor. Her doctor will arrange a referral to a licensed clinic (for a pregnancy under 12 weeks) or to a specialist operating in a licensed hospital (for a pregnancy over 12 weeks). First an operating surgeon must be willing to perform an abortion, then the woman must obtain the approval of two certifying consultants, one of whom must have experience in obstetrics. A certificate must be issued for the performance of an abortion.
Under sect 46 of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977 no doctor, nurse or other person, who has a conscientious objection to abortion, is obliged to assist in the performance of an abortion. Under sect 174 of the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 the doctor has a duty to inform the woman that she can obtain the service from another health practitioner or from a family planning clinic.
The grounds for an abortion are not contained in the CS&A Act but in the Crimes Act 1961 (and two amendments passed in December 1977 and July 1978). These grounds are:
- Serious danger to life
- Serious danger to physical health
- Serious danger to mental health
- Any form of incest or sexual relations with a guardian
- Mental subnormality
- Fetal abnormality (added in the July 1978 amendment)
In addition, other factors which are not grounds in themselves but which may be taken into account are:
- Extremes of age
- Sexual violation (previously rape)
After 20 weeks gestation the grounds are stricter and it must be necessary to save the life of the woman or prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health.
The Crimes Act also defines miscarriage as an event which takes place after implantation. This means that emergency contraception and postcoital insertion of IUDs are legal. Not only do they prevent implantation, but newer studies show that they also prevent fertilisation.
Self-abortion is an offence (section 44 CS&A Act).
At the time of the passing of the CS&A Act in 1977, various other Acts affected by the legislation were amended. In the case of abortion there was an amendment to the Guardianship Act whereby a female of any age may consent to or refuse an abortion. This means that even a girl under 16 years cannot be forced by her parents to have or not have an abortion. In 2004 this section of the Guardianship Act was transferred to the Care of Children Act.
Last Updated: 18 November 2014