Abortion facts: What you need to know about the termination of pregnancy

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  • The termination of a pregnancy is never an easy decision and there are many reasons for it. But whatever your circumstances for having an abortion – we’ve got all the help and advice you need.

    There were 190,406 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2016, and over 191,000 the year before. The NHS estimates that one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime.

    People feel very strongly about abortion because it is a deeply personal issue but it’s your right to have a choice. Whatever your views, the law in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) states:

    *Any woman or child has the right to an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy
    *Abortions must be carried out in a hospital or specialist licensed clinic
    *Two doctors must agree that a termination would cause less damage to woman’s physical or mental health than a pregnancy

    Occasionally an abortion is carried out after 24 weeks. The reasons for this will be to save the life of the woman or of the child, or if the child is severely physically or mentally disabled. It is illegal to have an abortion after this time if there is no threat to the woman’s or child’s health.


    All your medical notes are private and confidential, whether you see your GP or a specialist at a private clinic. If you’re worried that someone will see your notes then you can ask your doctor leave the details off your medical record, and he or she must honour that request.

    Who pays for an abortion?

    You can have an abortion on the NHS but funding varies across the country. If you go private, costs vary from clinic to clinic. Usually the earlier the pregnancy the lower the cost, and the method of termination also affects the price. If you are worried about this speak to your GP or the clinic.

    Making a decision

    Choosing to have an abortion is not an easy decision for any woman. Talking to someone can really help, even if it’s just a close friend. Whether you decide to go full term with the pregnancy, opt for adoption or have an abortion you may find it helpful to speak to a specialist counsellor, like someone at Marie Stopes International. They are the UK’s leading independent experts on sexual and reproductive health. They see over 100,000 women and men each year for all sorts of services such as contraception, pregnancy testing, unplanned pregnancy counselling, abortion and health screening.

    ‘We make sure that everyone who visits a Marie Stopes Centre has a friendly, understanding and non-judgemental experience – and that they get all the support and information they need,’ says Julie Douglas from Marie Stopes International. They have a 24 hour / 7 day information and booking service, there is no wait for appointments and they can provide both NHS (by GP referral), or self referral private services. Initial consultation and counselling for abortion can be provided at the centres or you can speak to a specialist by telephone.

    If you have a partner talk to him about your situation – if this is difficult speak to a friend or counsellor who can advise you on how to talk to your partner. Don’t be scared to talk to a counsellor, they will not judge you or be shocked by your feelings or decision because they have helped thousands of women who are in a similar situation. Their advice and help is always confidential.

    What happens next?

    If you choose to terminate the pregnancy, you need to make an appointment to see your GP. He or she will discuss the options with you. Your doctor will not persuade you to make a particular decision, they have to remain impartial and keep your best interests and your health in mind. But your GP has to talk to you about the other options: keeping the baby and adoption. This discussion, whether with your GP or at a specialist clinic is private and confidential and you can ask for it to be left off your medical notes if you are worried that someone else will see your notes.

    Sometimes your GP may have a moral or religious objection to abortion, in which case, he or she will refer you to another doctor who can help.

    If you don’t want to see your doctor you can go directly to your local family planning clinic, genito-urinary medicine clinic (GUM) or a private clinic.

    Your GP or the doctor at the clinic will check that you are pregnant and work out by how many weeks. You will be asked about your medical history, you’ll have a blood test and be checked for sexually transmitted diseases.
    In some cases you may also have an ultrasound scan, a vaginal examination and a cervical smear test.

    You will also be given a consent form to sign to ensure that you have been given the facts and that you are aware of the risks, and that you agree to have a termination.

    You will also be given a consent form to sign to ensure that you have been given the facts and that you are aware of the risks, and that you agree to have a termination.

    What about my fertility?

    It’s easy to say, but don’t worry. It’s very rare that a woman’s fertility is affected and it’s unlikely that the abortion is unsuccessful – the failure rate is about 10 in 1000.

    Methods of termination

    There are many methods of abortion, but there are just two methods that are widely used. The method used depends on how many weeks pregnant you are and your personal circumstances.

    Up to 9 weeks of pregnancy:
    You are given two different medicines, 48 hours apart, by your doctor or the clinic. The effects are similar to an early miscarriage. You may feel sick and have cramps, like you have with a period, but you can take painkillers. You don’t need to stay in the clinic overnight. You’ll have a follow-up appointment on the second day to take the second medicine and you will have a follow-up appointment after this.

    From 9 weeks of pregnancy:
    A method called medical vacuum aspiration (MVA) is used. This is a very quick, gentle procedure where light suction is used to empty the uterus. You can choose to have a local or general anaesthetic. You may feel some discomfort, like strong period pain. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to stay overnight and you can usually go home after a few hours.


    No medical procedure is free from risk but with abortions the risks are relatively low. You may experience bleeding, cramps and soreness, like a period. The chance of an abortion affecting your fertility is rare – in fact, you can still get pregnant just a week after a termination.

    If you are still bleeding or in pain after 14 days then you need to see your GP or contact the clinic.

    After the procedure it’s really important that you avoid sex for at least two weeks to avoid infection and pregnancy. Talk to your GP or the clinic about the best contraception for you.


    Choosing to have an abortion is a difficult decision and you don’t have to go through it on your own. Talking to a counsellor can really help you make the right choice for you and cope with the decision that you make. A trained counsellor won’t judge you or push you into making any decision that you are not happy with. You have the right to choose.