Abortion: a public health issue; abortion has always been an emotive subject. Sahaya Josephine explores the facts rather than the ethics. (Education)

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Date: Feb. 2002
From: Student BMJ
Publisher: BMJ Publishing Group Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,380 words

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Abortion can be either spontaneous or induced, the former is often referred to as miscarriage and the latter as termination or, less frequently, abortion. Termination of pregnancy or induced abortion applies to any pregnancy terminated at less than 24 weeks (Britain) or under 500 g (World Health Organization). (1)

Abortion Act 1967

Historical data show that induced termination of pregnancy has been performed since the time of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. (2) In Britain, abortion was illegal in the 19th century and a significant number of women were suffering and dying as a result of illegal abortions. However, this is still sadly the case in developing countries where healthcare services are inadequate or poorly resourced and inaccessible.

The 1967 Abortion Act was introduced in Britain (not Northern Ireland) to change the situation and took effect on 27 April 1968. This was amended in 1990 by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which changed the upper limit from 28 weeks to 24 weeks as advances in medicine led to survival of babies born after about 24 weeks of pregnancy. Under the Abortion Act abortion is legal, subject to the following criteria: (a) to save the mother's life; (b) to prevent grave permanent injury to the mother's physical or mental health; (c) under 24 weeks to avoid injury to the physical or mental health of the mother; (d) under 24 weeks to avoid injury to the physical or mental health of the existing child(ren); (e) if the child is likely to be severely physically or mentally handicapped. Two registered medical practitioners should certify the procedure based on the above criteria. The operation should be performed by a registered medical practitioner in a NHS hospital except in an emergency.


The statistical processing and analyses of the notifications is undertaken by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in England and Wales and by the Information and Statistics Division (ISD) in Scotland. In the first few years after 1967 there was a rapid increase in the annual numbers of abortions. After 1973 the increase was more gradual until...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A95103514