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Abortion

An abortion is the process of ending a pregnancy.

The pregnancy is ended either by a medical abortion, which involves taking medication, or a surgical abortion, involving a small operation.

The decision will partly depend on how many weeks pregnant you are.

Women will often be able to choose between the two options.

Abortions in Scotland are usually provided by NHS health boards – see the contact details below for your local NHS Board. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to some changes in how services are delivered. However, abortions are treated as essential healthcare and all boards are still providing abortions.

Sometimes healthcare professionals may refer to an abortion as a 'termination of pregnancy' or 'termination'.

How soon can I get an abortion?

Most abortions in Scotland, around 75%, are carried out before a pregnancy reaches 9 weeks and almost all, around 98%, are performed before 20 weeks.

The earlier an abortion is carried out, the easier and safer the procedure is. However, you should take enough time to consider all your options to be as comfortable as possible with your decision.

What's the law on abortion?

It's legal to have an abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, so long as certain criteria are met. The Abortion Act 1967 covers Scotland, England and Wales.

The law states:

  • abortion treatment must be carried out in a hospital or a place approved by Scottish Government Ministers
  • two doctors must agree that an abortion would cause less risk to a woman's physical or mental health (or that of her children) than continuing with the pregnancy

The law states an abortion may be carried out later in pregnancy when:

  • it's necessary to save the woman's life
  • it's to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman
  • there's substantial risk of the child being born with serious disabilities

What are the reasons for having an abortion?

There are many reasons why you might decide to have an abortion, including:

  • your personal circumstances, your own wellbeing, your children or others you may care for
  • your health may be at risk
  • there's a high risk the baby would have a serious  disability

Where can abortions take place?

Due to coronavirus, there are currently some changes to processes and it’s more likely you may initially have a discussions with a nurse or doctor by phone if you prefer.  Following your initial assessment appointment by phone or at the abortion service, you'll either:

  • be asked to collect your medication from a clinic or hospital
  • have your medication delivered to you
  • be asked to come to the clinic to take your first set of medication and possibly have some tests, such as an ultrasound scan
  • if you prefer to have a surgical abortion, you will be advised on whether this is possible for you and, if so, given a hospital appointment for the operation

Early medical abortion (up to 12 weeks of pregnancy) involves taking two different medications, usually around 24 to 48 hours apart. The effect of the medication will be similar to an early miscarriage.  

If you have a medical abortion, you'll be given a medication called mifepristone to take first. You will then take the second medication, misoprostol, 24 to 48 hours later.  You will be given information on how to take these.

If you have a medical condition which might put you at higher risk, are under 16 years old, are homeless, or need support for other reasons you'll be asked to take the medication in a hospital where you can be monitored by medical staff.

During your appointment and in the medication pack, you will receive clear instructions on how and when to take your medication. You'll also be told who to contact if you need help or have any complications.

For more information on what to expect from an abortion and links to NHS Boards’ websites see NHS Inform

Abortion Services in Scotland for women who live in Northern Ireland

Residents of Northern Ireland can access abortion services in Scotland for free, on the same terms as people who live in Scotland. If you are in Northern Ireland and want to travel to Scotland for an abortion, the first step is to contact the NHS Board for the area where you're planning to have your abortion. The procedure for arranging an appointment varies depending on the NHS Board.

FAQs: travelling to Scotland for an abortion, how abortion services in Scotland operate, and confidentiality.

Contact your NHS Board

 Appointment arrangements may vary depending upon the NHS Board.

NHS health board

Contact and appointment booking information

Ayrshire and Arran

Please phone 01563 827025 to make an appointment (Monday to Friday 10am to 1pm).

Borders

Sexual Health – 01896 663700 Mon-Fri 9am-1pm. Direct referral – 01896 826729 Mon-Fri 9am-5pm. This is for women who are happy to be seen directly in the TOP clinic.

Dumfries and Galloway

Phone 0345 702 3687 to speak to staff Monday to Friday 08.30am to 4.30pm.

Fife

Phone 01592 64 33 55 and enter extension 25445 when asked. Line open between 8am and 4pm Monday to Friday.

Forth Valley

Contact the service by phoning 01324 673555, Monday to Friday, between 8am – 5pm.

Grampian

Main reception: phone 0345 337 9900 (Monday-Thursday 8.30am-4.30pm, Friday 8.30am-3.30pm)
Unplanned pregnancy:
• Aberdeen: phone 01224 655535 (Monday-Friday 9am-2pm)
• Elgin, Dr Gray's: phone 01343 567459

Greater Glasgow and Clyde

Please phone 0141 211 8620 for a telephone consultation and advice.

Highland

Phone 01463 888300

Lanarkshire

To self-refer to the service phone 01698 366926. This referral line is open Monday – Friday, 9am – 3pm.

Lothian

Women across Lothian can self-refer for abortion by phoning Lothian Abortion Referral Service (LARS) - phone 0131 536 2454 (Mon- Fri 9-3 pm).

Orkney

Phone 01856 888 917 to make an appointment.

Shetland

Please phone the Maternity Department on 01595 743012 and someone will phone you back.

Tayside

You should phone the sexual health service for advice and referral, on 01382 425 542.

Western Isles

Phone 01851 708305 or 01851 708300 for advice. In some cases, you may need to be referred to the mainland (Inverness or Glasgow) for an appointment.

 For more information on what to expect from an abortion and links to NHS Boards’ websites see NHS Inform.

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