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Brook position statement - abortion

Brook supports women’s right to choose legal and safe abortion and believes abortion should be available to women in all parts of the United Kingdom.

The ability to choose legal abortion allows young women to make their own decisions about their futures, including when and whether to have children.

Key issues

The law

Brook is a founding member of the Voice for Choice campaign which is committed to ensuring that:

  • Abortion be available solely at the request of the pregnant woman within existing legal time limits
  • Abortion services are subject to the same statutory regulations as other medical services
  • Suitably trained nurse practitioners be allowed to provide early medical and surgical abortions, in both the NHS and non-NHS sector
  • The law in Northern Ireland be brought into line with the rest of the UK
  • Current legal abortion rights are defended

The current need for two doctors’ signatures can result in women presenting too late for an abortion or having an abortion later than necessary. Allowing women to make a decision about abortion in the same way as any other medical treatment, within existing time limits, would reduce preventable delays.

Brook supports the position of the leading medical organisations – the Royal College of Midwives, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare – that abortion should be taken out of the criminal law, and treated like other healthcare procedures with appropriate statutory regulation.

Northern Ireland

The 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland and abortion is only legal there in very limited and exceptional circumstances. As a result women in Northern Ireland have been denied the same rights as other women in the United Kingdom and suffer discrimination in contravention of their human and civil rights.(1)   Brook supports those campaigning to extend full access to legal abortion to Northern Ireland.

Later abortions 

Brook supports the retention of current legal time limits. Women need access to later abortions for a wide range of reasons. (2) Some women may experience delays in being referred or may experience a diagnosis of foetal abnormality or other health issue late in their pregnancy.  Some may not realise they are pregnant, either because of their poor sex education, or because their periods are irregular. Others may delay visiting a service because of fears around being judged, or lack of confidentiality. Young women in particular are more likely to present later in their pregnancy for these reasons.  1% of terminations occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy in England and Wales. Reducing the time limit would affect some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged women and may result in women being rushed into decisions about abortions or forced to continue a pregnancy against their will. 

Health issues

Brook believes that all women should have access to medically accurate information and impartial support in order to make an informed choice about their pregnancy. Encountering judgemental attitudes or misinformation can have a negative impact on women. Anti-choice groups have routinely claimed that abortion carries physical risks and results in psychiatric illness. However, women should be reassured that if they choose abortion the risks to their physical and mental health are low.  A systematic review of the mental health impact of induced abortion developed for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges concluded that mental health outcomes are likely to be the same whether women with unwanted pregnancies opt for an abortion or birth. Those with experience of mental health problems prior to pregnancy, are associated with increased mental health problems whether they continue a pregnancy to term or have an abortion.(3) Anecdotal evidence from Brook’s counsellors suggests that only a small proportion of women return for counselling after an abortion, even though this is routinely offered, supporting the evidence that most women are well able to manage their emotions following the experience of having an abortion.

Key information

Abortion is a safe procedure for which major complications and mortality are rare at all gestations.(4)

Abortion is common. At least one third of British women will have had an abortion by the time they reach the age of 45.(5) 

In 2016:

  • There were 185,596 abortions provided for women resident in England and Wales. 12,063 were provided for women in Scotland
  • 92% of abortions were provided at under 13 weeks gestation in England and Wales and 81% were provided before 10 weeks
  • 98% of abortions to residents of England and Wales were funded by the NHS
  • In England and Wales the under-16 abortion rate was 1.7 per thousand and the under-18 rate was 8.9 per 1,000 women in the age group. In Scotland abortion rates were slightly lower
  • In England, Wales and Scotland abortion rates for under 19s were down on the previous year

Statistics on abortion in England and Wales are collated by the Department of Health and Social Care are updated and published annually.

Statistics on abortion in Scotland are updated annually and published by NHS Scotland.

The role of Brook services

Brook provides high quality education, information and clinical care to young people to encourage and support the use of effective contraception and reduce the likelihood of unintended pregnancy and STIs.

In the event of unintended pregnancy Brook services provide impartial information and support to young pregnant women and their partners to help them make an informed choice about the pregnancy.(6) Brook does not provide abortions or ante-natal care, but can refer women for a termination of pregnancy or into appropriate pregnancy care depending on her choice.

Most women are fully fertile immediately after abortion and within three weeks of childbirth.(7,8) Brook supports young people to choose and use an effective contraceptive method as soon as possible to avoid a repeat unintended pregnancy.


  1. Northern Ireland: Barriers to accessing abortion services, Amnesty International, 2015 
  2. 32 reasons not to lower the abortion time limit, BPAS, 2008 
  3. Induced abortion and mental health. A systematic review of the mental health impact of induced abortion, including their prevalence and associated factors, Developed for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, 2011
  4. The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2011
  5. Ibid, 2011
  6. Decision-making support within the integrated care pathway for women considering or seeking abortion: guidance for commissioners on improving access and outcomes for women, Brook, 2014
  7. NHS Choices, 2018
  8. NHS Choices, 2018

Publication date: April 2018