The law and ethics of abortion

This page provides information on the law and ethics of abortion and the BMA’s policy on abortion, including the decriminalisation of abortion.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Wednesday 23 September 2020
Justice scales article illustration

BMA policy on abortion

We have a range of policy on abortion, for example:

  • on the decriminalisation of abortion
  • time limits for abortion
  • the establishment of ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics
  • the provision of counselling services and on the Abortion Act 1967.

BMA policy on the decriminalisation of abortion

In 2017, we agreed policy that abortion should be regulated in the same way as other medical treatments. This policy states that abortion:

  1. should be decriminalised in respect of health professionals administering abortions within the context of their clinical practice
  2. should be decriminalised in respect of women procuring and administering the means of their own abortion.

This policy was reaffirmed in 2019. To facilitate the debate on this policy, we published a neutral discussion paper. This paper, and the update to this discussion paper provides a guide to some of the key legal and ethical issues raised by the debate around decriminalisation.

We have been clear that decriminalisation does not mean deregulation. Abortion is subject to specific regulations and to professional and clinical standards. In addition, the professional standards, regulations and criminal and civil laws that apply to all other areas of clinical practice also apply to abortion.

For example, if abortion is decriminalised, it will continue to be an offence to sell, supply, or make a false representation to procure abortifacients without a valid prescription given by an appropriate practitioner.

Regulation of abortion in the UK

Our position paper explains our position on this issue in greater detail and an understanding of how abortion will be regulated in the United Kingdom if it were to be decriminalised.

We recognise the diversity of opinion amongst our membership on the issue of abortion. Although representing members with a wide range of views, the BMA has clear democratic and representative mechanisms for formally establishing policy on such issues, through its RB (representative body).