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If you decide not to continue with your pregnancy you may be able to have an abortion. An abortion (sometimes called a termination) is a medical process that ends a pregnancy before it results in the birth of a baby.

How soon can I get an abortion?

An abortion should take place as early as possible – ideally in the first 9 weeks of pregnancy.

The earlier an abortion takes place, the easier and safer it is to perform, but the woman must have time to consider all her options carefully.

Deciding whether to have an abortion or not can be a difficult decision. It should never be entered into until the woman is sure it's the right thing for her to do.

What's the law on abortion?

The Abortion Act 1967 makes it legal to have an abortion in Scotland, England and Wales during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy provided that:

  • The abortion is carried out in a hospital or licensed clinic
  • Two doctors agree that continuing with the pregnancy would be more harmful to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family than if the pregnancy was aborted.

After 24 weeks, an abortion can be carried out only if:

  • It is necessary to save the woman's life; or
  • It will prevent grave, permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or
  • There is substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

Where can abortions take place?

Abortions can be carried out for free in an NHS hospital or clinic or can be paid for at a private clinic.

Your GP or sexual health service can refer you to a hospital or clinic where the procedure will take place or you may be able to refer yourself. Where it will take place may depend on the stage of pregnancy you are at but the doctor will explain this to you. It is important to speak with a doctor as soon as possible, even if you think you know what stage of pregnancy you are in, as they will be able to offer the best advice and support on the options available to you. Health Boards in Scotland vary in the gestational limit (the stage of pregnancy) which they are able to provide abortion services for. However, Health Boards are required to support women to access this service up until 24 weeks gestation in line with the law in Scotland. You should always contact your Health Board for advice even if you think you may be too far along in your pregnancy for the service they provide. See here for the limit in your Board area.

Abortions in a private hospital or private clinic can take place without referral from a GP but must be paid for. Two doctors must still agree that the abortion will be legal and can take place under the law governing abortions.

What are the reasons for having an abortion?

There are many reasons for having an abortion. The mother or baby may have or develop a medical condition that makes the pregnancy dangerous or there may be other personal circumstances. Whatever the reason, and provided the legal conditions are met, it is the pregnant woman's right to choose to have an abortion or not.

What to do if you are considering an abortion

In the first instance, you should talk to someone about it as soon as possible. Contact your GP or sexual health service, who will keep everything you tell them confidential and will offer you advice.

If you are unsure, you may find counselling will help you make a decision. Your GP or sexual health service can arrange this or you can seek this privately - a number of charitable organisations offer counselling services. 

If you are sure of your decision, your GP or clinic can arrange the procedure for you and, as long as two doctors agree that you meet the legal criteria for an abortion, this can go ahead. 

Help before and after an abortion

Thinking about having an abortion can bring up all kinds of feelings. If you have an abortion, the feelings you may have afterwards can be difficult to cope with too.

The doctor or nurse you speak to about having an abortion will offer you the chance to see an abortion counsellor if this is what you want. You do not have to see a counsellor but you might find it helpful if you are unsure about your decision or if you are struggling to cope with your feelings afterwards.

For more information read our section on getting help.

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For more information call  0800 22 44 88 or use our sexual health service finder to look for help in your area.