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Abortion

Abortion is sometimes called ‘termination’. It is when someone chooses to end a pregnancy because they don’t want to have a baby.

Abortion is more common than you might think, a third of women in the UK have had an abortion. There are different laws for abortion in England, Wales and Scotland, in Northern Ireland and in Jersey, click here for more information. 

If you have questions about abortion you can get in touch with Ask Brook (between 9am-3pm, Mon to Fri) via webchat or text on 07717 989023 (standard SMS rates). Ask Brook is confidential. That means we won’t tell anyone you’ve contacted us unless we think you are in really serious danger.

How can I get an abortion?

To have an abortion you need to be referred by a doctor. This can be your own GP, a doctor at a local family planning clinic, or at a Brook service if you are under 25.

In some parts of the country you can ‘self-refer’, which means ringing the abortion clinic yourself to set up a free appointment:

Most people have an abortion through the NHS, without paying anything, but some people choose to go to a private clinic, and will pay for the abortion. Those seeking abortion from Northern Ireland, or outside of the UK, would need to pay for a private abortion. Both Marie Stopes and BPAS offer information on abortion in a number of different languages.

Although the legal limit for abortion in most of the UK is 24 weeks, it's best to get help as soon as possible. Abortion is safest and easiest to access early on in pregnancy. There is an average of two to four weeks' waiting time on the NHS from when you first see a doctor to when you have the abortion.

If you haven't made up your mind about what you want to do about your pregnancy yet, but there is a chance that you might choose to end it, you can ask a doctor to arrange an abortion for you, just so that you're on the waiting list. In the meantime, you can get advice and speak to a counsellor. Then if you choose to continue with the pregnancy, it's fine for you to cancel the abortion. 

What if I'm under 16?

If someone is under 16 but is considered able to consent to their own medical treatment, they can consent to an abortion without being forced to tell a parent or carer. However, a doctor will try to involve a parent or another adult to provide support, for example another family member or a youth worker.

Young people under 16 are also allowed to access contraception without having to get permission from a parent or carer, as long as the doctor thinks they can understand and consent to this.

If you want to talk to someone about how to get an abortion you can get in touch with Ask Brook via text or webchat. Ask Brook is confidential. That means we won’t tell anyone you've contacted us unless we think you are in really serious danger.

How are abortions carried out?

The type of abortion you have depends on how early on in your pregnancy you are having the abortion. In some clinics you will be able to choose the method which you would prefer. Be sure to ask the doctor or nurse for more information.

There are two main early abortion methods:

Early medical abortion – sometimes known as 'the abortion pill'

The ‘abortion pill’ is where medication is taken to end a pregnancy. It’s not the same as emergency contraception (sometimes called the 'morning after pill'), which can be taken to try to prevent pregnancy from happening. Early medical abortion involves at least two visits to a clinic and is performed in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

On the first visit the patient is given a pill called mifepristone, which ends the pregnancy. They will return to the clinic between six and 48 hours later, to take a second medication called misoprostol. The second medication causes cramping and bleeding similar to a miscarriage.

Early medical abortion can feel like having a heavy period and you are likely to experience some discomfort and bleeding for the next few days at least.

Read this guide from Marie Stopes for more information on medical abortion.

Vacuum aspiration – sometimes known as 'the suction method'

This method is available up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. For this procedure either a general (asleep) or local (awake) anaesthetic would be given. The procedure only takes about 5-10 minutes and there is no wound or stitches.

The cervix (the entrance to the womb at the top of the vagina) is gently stretched to allow a thin tube to pass through it into the womb. Once the tube is inserted the pregnancy is removed by suction. Most people only take an hour or so to recover and go home the same day.

Read this guide from Marie Stopes for more information on surgical abortion.

Abortions after 15 weeks

Abortion after 15 weeks is less common - most abortions happen in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. However, sometimes people need to have an abortion later on in pregnancy. They might find that they need to travel out of their local area to do so, as later abortion is not always as easy to access. Again, it’s important to talk to a doctor as soon as possible.

Methods used for later abortions will depend on the stage of pregnancy. The exact procedure will be explained by a doctor or nurse before the abortion goes ahead.

For more detail on what will happen when you go for an abortion, read this guide to what happens on the day from BPAS.

How will I feel after an abortion?

How someone feels emotionally after having an abortion will depend on their individual circumstances and how comfortable they feel about their decision. They may feel relieved or sad, or a mixture of both. Abortion is not linked to serious mental health problems.

If you feel it would be useful to speak to a counsellor before or after abortion, talk to your GP, the clinic that performed the abortion, or visit a Brook service for more information on the support that is available.

Is abortion safe?

Abortion is a safe procedure with few serious complications and overall, it is safer than giving birth. The chance of a complication occurring is more likely the later in pregnancy the abortion is performed.

You may experience some bleeding for a few days after the abortion and you may have pain like period pains. If you have heavy bleeding, strong pain, a high temperature or unusual vaginal discharge, you should see a doctor as soon as possible as this could mean that you have an infection which needs treatment. You'll be given advice on how to reduce the risk of infection.

You will need to see a doctor about one to six weeks after the abortion to make sure everything is OK.

Having an abortion does not affect your chances of having children in the future. In fact, it is possible to become pregnant again very soon after having the abortion. So it's a good idea to get contraception sorted out straight away.

Can a doctor refuse abortion?

In Great Britain doctors have a legal right not to be involved in providing abortion services if they don't want to be.

If your GP disagrees with abortion, then she or he does not have to be involved in referring you. However, they should make arrangements for you to see another doctor who will be happy to arrange the appointment. They should not judge you or make you feel bad about your decision.

If you go to a Brook service, or another sexual health clinic, you are unlikely to see a doctor who would turn down your request.

Where do I go for more information about abortion?

If you are pregnant and thinking about having an abortion it's best to contact your local Brook service or Ask Brook via text or webchat if you have any questions which aren't answered here.

You might also find the following links useful:

Abortion: what the law says

Abortion law varies across the UK and there are different laws for abortion in England, Wales and Scotland, in Northern Ireland and in Jersey. 

Visit our page on abortion and the law for detailed information about the law in each country. 

If you need help quickly

If you need help quickly you can contact these organisations:

  • For medical advice contact NHS 111 by dialling 111 or NHS 24 (Scotland) on 08454 242424 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • For help if you’re under 18 contact Childline on 0800 1111
  • For urgent emotional support contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90