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Abortion – The Facts

Abortion is the ending of a pregnancy. In the UK they are available for free on the NHS from local sexual health services.

How to get one

To start this process you can go to your own doctor or to a sexual health service where you can be sure of someone who will help you with unbiased information and support. They might do a pregnancy test with you and then give you options. Make sure you visit a good service from this page, who will give you ubiased advice.

As with any sexual or reproductive health treatment you can have an abortion if you are under 16 without anyone else knowing. The service you access will encourage you to chat about your choices with them, or to bring along someone who will support your decision (whatever that is).

Methods of abortion

There are two main ways that abortions are carried out: a medical abortion (using medicine, ie pills), or a surgical abortion. Medical abortions can be done at home (and pills can now be sent out to you in the post). They can also be done in a clinic. Surgical abortions are done in clinics, under sedation or an anaesthetic. The pregnancy is removed by gentle suction (so not really ‘surgery’).

Which method of abortion you go for depends on how many weeks pregnant you are, but also what your home situation is like and what will work best for you. This is something you can discuss with the clinic. You can read more about the different types of procedures at BPAS (who carry out a lot of abortions in the UK, which are still provided freely).

If you want to chat to someone about your pregnancy choices – abortion, fostering, adoption, or parenting – you should go to a service that offers impartial advice. Find out more about that at my services page.

What are they like?

They are common. Last year in England and Wales, over 200,000 people had an abortion. They are safe, particularly when they are performed early (as the vast majority of abortions are). There are risks, as with any medical procedure, of complication, but serious complications are rare.

Whilst having an abortion might not be easiest thing in the world, mostly people feel relief and don’t report feeling differently to someone who hasn’t had an abortion. How people feel after an abortion depends on their situation. Being denied having an abortion does affect someone’s mental health.

The Law and Abortion

Abortions are legal in the UK but they aren’t available on demand in GB. Under the law, two medical practitioners have to agree that the pregnant person (mostly women but not only) meets certain criteria. Most abortions in the UK are approved because they agree that continuing with the pregnancy will involve a risk of injury to someone’s physical or mental health. They also have to be performed under 24 weeks into the pregnancy (most abortions are carried out many weeks before that).

In Northern Ireland they are now legal in the same way as in GB, but you can (theoretically) access an abortion up to 12 weeks on demand (which is now the law in Ireland). Although it’s legal in Northern Ireland, very few abortion services have been commissioned, so it’s really difficult to get one (same in Ireland). More about how to get one here below.

Political point. Abortion is healthcare. Like all healthcare, it should be free, guaranteed by law, and be easily available. We think that we are great in the UK but we don’t have abortion on demand (in GB) and we still have criminal laws that apply if abortions aren’t accessed within the law. We should decriminalise abortion.


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Finding it hard to get an abortion?

In Britain, abortions are free and available from local sexual health services. Find your local service via the services page here at BISH.

Europe

In Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, it’s still quite difficult accessing an abortion because there aren’t many services. Other places in Europe where it can be difficult to get this kind of healthcare are the Isle of Man, Malta, Gibraltar, Poland, Hungary, Romania, France, Spain, Andorra, Ukraine, and Russia.

If you need help getting an abortion in any of these places visit Abortion Support Network. They can help give you information, advice, and sometimes also financial support to travel for an abortion. They do amazing work, so please consider supporting them here.

US

It’s been getting harder for many people in various states of the US to get an abortion for some time, and it looks like that’s getting harder. If you need an abortion in the states try ineedana.com who have a database of where your nearest providers are. They will also give you details of the available abortion funds that might help you pay for it.

If you live in a southern state where abortion is being restricted, Scalawag Magazine have compiled a list of abortion funds and providers that can help. You could also consider supporting those. Also check out this guide to abortion from our friends at Scarleteen.

Rest of the world

You can find a list of organisations that can help you find an abortion provider via SAAF. If you know of a great support service near you let me know.

Do leave a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add or if you have questions. I moderate all comments before they go live. Click here to ask me a question

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© Justin Hancock, 2022

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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here

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