Abortion

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We believe that human life begins at conception and therefore the human embryo must be protected and cared for at all stages of its development.

We believe that both the mother and the unborn baby have inherent value and dignity, and we advocate for the health and wellbeing of both persons.

Abortion Statistics

Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2017- Department of Health & Social Care

  • 197,533 abortions took place in England and Wales in 2017. That’s 541 abortions carried out every day.

  • Less than 3% of abortions in the UK were performed because of foetal abnormality or serious injury to the mother.

  • 9 out of 10 abortions were carried out under 13 weeks in 2017.

  • 38% of women who had an abortion had undergone one or more previous abortions

  • The abortion rate was highest for women at the age of 20 and there were 1,313 abortions to girls under 16. 

  • 28% of abortions were performed in NHS hospitals and 70% in approved independent sector places under NHS contract. A total of 98% of abortions were funded by the NHS. 

  • There has been a 50% increase in abortions for Down's syndrome in the last ten years. 

The Law

The law in England, Scotland and Wales is governed by the Abortion Act 1967, amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

Under the Abortion Act 1967, women in England, Wales and Scotland can have an abortion up to 24 weeks, providing the abortion has been authorised by two medical practitioners who believe in good faith, that the woman fulfills one of the 7 grounds that exist for having an abortion (Grounds A-G). The Grounds are:

a. The continuation of the pregnancy would lead to risk of injury to the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(c)).

b. The termination is needed in order to prevent permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(b)).

c. The pregnancy has not exceeded twenty four weeks and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk greater to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section 1(1)(a)).

d. The pregnancy has not exceeded twenty four weeks and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk greater to the physical or mental health of any existing children of the pregnant woman’s family (section 1(1)(a)).

e. That there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped (section 1(1)(d)).

f. To save of the pregnant woman (section (1)(4))

g. To prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (section (1)(4))

Abortion is currently a criminal offence under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and the Infant Life Preservation Act 1929, if it is obtained after 24 weeks and falls outside the Grounds of the Abortion Act 1967. The 24 week upper limit is fairly high when compared with European averages which limit abortions to roughly 12 weeks.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is currently exempted from the Abortion Act 1967 and is governed by sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945. An abortion can only be legally permissible in Northern Ireland if a woman's life is at risk or if there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. These laws protect the lives of unborn babies, whilst striking a balance with the interests of the mother. 100,000 people are alive today in Northern Ireland because the Abortion Act 1967 was not extended there. 

There is currently considerable pressure to change the law in Northern Ireland. CARE has spoken out publicly about the need to respect Northern Ireland’s life-affirming laws and we argue that this is clearly a devolved issue that is a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

Abortion and women's mental and physical health

The most common Ground for an abortion is Ground C. This allows for an abortion to be carried out where “The pregnancy has not exceeded twenty four weeks and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk greater to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

Though the letter of the law would seem to indicate that continuation with pregnancy poses greater harm, in reality, this Ground is interpreted very loosely and the effect of the law is that abortion is, in practice, available on demand for up to 24 weeks. It is assumed that continuance with unintended pregnancy involves greater risk to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman and that abortion is therefore a necessary solution.

Further research is much needed in this area, but there is enough evidence to question this stance. A comprehensive review of the evidence in the United Kingdom by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in 2011 found no difference between the mental health outcomes of women with unwanted pregnancies who gave birth from those who had abortions, except for women who had a history of mental health difficulties before an unwanted pregnancy—these women were found to be at greater risk of mental health problems following an abortion.

In 2013, Fergusson et al re-examined the results of this review and additional evidence in this area. They came to the following conclusion: “there is no available evidence to suggest that abortion has therapeutic effects in reducing the mental health risks of unwanted or unintended pregnancy. There is suggestive evidence that abortion may be associated with small to moderate increases in risks of some mental health problems.” Two other longitudinal studies in recent times have come to similar conclusions.

It is notable that a meta-analysis study by Coleman published in The British Journal of Psychiatry—the largest quantitative estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion in world literature—found that women who had undergone an abortion experienced an 81% increased risk of mental health problems. The study concluded that, based on the data from 22 studies incorporating 877,181 participants, there is a strong indication that abortion is associated with a moderate to highly increased risk of subsequent psychological problems. Furthermore, nearly 10% of the incidence of mental health problems as a population attributable risk (PAR) was shown to be attributable to abortion. Most alarmingly, the PAR of suicide was as high as 34.9%.

It is frequently suggested that it is riskier to the life of a mother to carry an unwanted baby to term than have an abortion. However, a study by Gissler et al found that the mortality risk for a nonpregnant woman drops dramatically for a woman who becomes pregnant and carries the baby to term, yet increases considerably for those who have abortions.

Regarding the impact of abortion on women’s physical health, there is solid evidence of a link between abortion and subsequent preterm birth. This risk is small but certainly real, and is acknowledged by the RCOG. In 2013, a review of induced abortion and early preterm birth found “a significant increase in the risk of preterm delivery in women with a history of previous induced abortion.” Women who had one prior induced abortion were 45% more likely to have premature births by 32 weeks, 71% more likely to have premature births by 28 weeks, and more than twice as likely (117%) to have premature births by 26 weeks. A further study conducted in Finland in 2013 found a 28% higher risk of an extremely preterm birth.

There is enough evidence to suggest that abortion may be harmful to women, particularly if they have a history of mental health problems and depending on the circumstances surrounding their unintended pregnancy. There is certainly no robust evidence base to support the notion that widespread access to abortion is a necessary and positive right that is beneficial to women's equality and progress. 

What about freedom of choice?

CARE advocates for a society where women are free and equal, as every individual made in God's image should be. However, women's recourse to abortion is often not because of a perceived right to exercise choice or a sense of liberty and empowerment. Abortions are often sought as a last resort in difficult circumstances, which are very much not empowering. Reasons can include economic hardship, unsupportive partners, education barriers—or, at worst, coercion or domestic violence. Abortion does nothing to solve these problems and inequalities that women face: it is a symptom of a society that does not adequately care for women. In these situations, we would question whether women really are able to make genuine, informed choices between various viable alternatives, if they feel that abortion is their only possible option. 

No woman should ever find herself in a situation where she is unable to continue with a pregnancy because of social or economic issues that hold her back. That is why CARE supports the work of Life, a charity that offers women personal support such as housing, counselling, training in parenting skills, and baby equipment. Hundreds of women access the support of this charity each week, showing this is a fundamental need that is missing from public services. The Government must do more to offer this kind of support to women and babies. 

Our recent Work

From its beginnings, CARE has advocated for the right to life for the unborn. We are delighted to have been a founding partner of the Both Lives Matter campaign together with the Evangelical Alliance and Life NI. It launched in early 2017 with a report and billboard campaign, highlighting the fact that not introducing the 1967 Abortion Act in Northern Ireland means 100,000 people are alive today who would not have been born had the 1967 Act been applied to the Province. We believe that the existing law in Northern Ireland protects both the unborn child and the interests of the mother.

This claim was vigorously investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), following a complaint. The ASA consulted evidence from a health economist and other experts and concluded that the 100,000 figure was a reasonable estimate of the impact of Northern Ireland’s abortion policy. The campaign then won a prestigious Public Affairs Award for Northern Ireland Campaign of the Year in late 2017.

In the aftermath of the decision of the Republic of Ireland to allow for widespread access to abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, considerable pressure has been brought to bear at Westminster with regard to Northern Ireland's law on abortion. With the Northern Ireland Assembly currently not in operation, proponents of decriminalising abortion have been pushing at Westminster for change in Northern Ireland. Currently the Government is maintaining the stance that abortion is a devolved issue and, despite calls for decriminalisation across the UK, it is declining to move on this position. We hope this position will continue to be upheld.

What needs to be done

More needs to be done to:

  • Reduce the abortion limit in Great Britain from 24 weeks to less than 12 weeks, which is more in line with European averages.

  • Clarify the law so that there is no doubt that sex-selective abortion is illegal in the UK.

  • Remove the financial incentives that exist for abortion providers by mandating that women who are presenting for an abortion receive independent counselling and advice before undergoing an abortion.

  • Reduce abortion limits for disabled children so that they are in line with limits on abortion for non-disabled children.

  • Proper access to genuinely independent counselling so that women are made fully aware of the options available to them

  • Uphold the right of Northern Ireland to determine their own law and policy on abortion.

Read our latest news on abortion here.

' Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. '

Jeremiah 1:5