In the last few days, we have noticed a spike in Google searches and website traffic around “abortion access” and “abortion rights” in England, following the extensive news coverage of the announcement that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v Wade – ending the constitutional right to abortion in the US.
In this blog, we provide some more information about abortion rights in the UK, how to access abortion care with MSI Reproductive Choices UK, and what you can do to support reproductive rights globally.
What is happening with abortion rights in the US?
On 24th June, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a decision to overturn Roe v Wade, ending the constitutional right to abortion in America.
What is Roe v Wade?
Roe v Wade was the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 which established a constitutional right to have an abortion in the United States. This ruling recognised that the decision whether to continue or end a pregnancy belongs to the individual, not the government. The ruling centres on the premise that the right to decide whether to continue with or end a pregnancy is protected by the right to ‘liberty’ in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and by the first, third, fourth, fifth and ninth Amendments which between them are commonly interpreted as implying a right to privacy in decision-making, particularly in light of other legal precedents, such as Planned Parenthood v Casey in 1992.
Whether the constitution guarantees a right to privacy has been debated among constitutional scholars and has long been central to the debate over abortion rights. Indeed, the original ruling on Roe v Wade mentions ‘privacy’ 25 times.
On 24th June 2022, the U.S. supreme court ruled there is no constitutional right to abortion in the United States, upending a precedent set nearly 50 years ago.
The reversal of the 1973 opinion allows individual US states to ban abortion. At least 26 states have already or are likely to either ban abortion outright or restrict access to such an extent as to amount to an effective ban.
This final ruling from the conservative-dominated Supreme Court comes after a draft opinion was leaked in early May.
What’s the impact of Roe V Wade in the UK?
It’s important to note that the overturning of Roe v Wade will not impact abortion law in the UK.
However, it will no doubt embolden anti-choice protestors (who would love to see healthcare rights similarly reversed over here).
Louise McCudden, UK Advocacy and Public Affairs Advisor for MSI Reproductive Choices said:
"Although the UK is a proudly pro-choice nation, where over 90% of people support abortion rights, we are concerned about how the repeal of Roe v Wade in the US will embolden anti-choice activists in the UK. We’re already seeing an increase in anti-choice activity outside some of our clinics, which may well be in part because anti-choice groups feel validated and bolstered by this ruling.
"It's also a timely reminder that abortion laws and access to services in the UK are far from perfect.
“After all, in Northern Ireland, abortion was highly restricted, permitted in only the most exceptional of circumstances until very recently. Even now, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland still refuses to properly commission services, which means that every month, dozens are still having to travel to England, just to exercise their reproductive rights.
“In the rest of the UK, we have high quality abortion care available via the NHS, but abortion is not decriminalised, and those accessing care face unnecessary bureaucratic barriers. There’s no clinical reason, for example, why every procedure should require two doctors to give approval.
“Rather than simply being regulated as any other healthcare service would be, abortion care is placed within criminal law, making it all too easy for that small but vocal anti-choice minority to find ways of stigmatising care and chipping away at access.
“The devastating news from the US should serve as a reminder that we can never take reproductive rights for granted until abortion is regulated as healthcare, instead of being criminalised under outdated Victorian laws”.
Read our full statement: MSI Reproductive Choices UK comment on the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe V Wade
Anti-choice activity online
The digital activity of anti-choice groups in the UK poses questions about their funding. How much money do they have, where does it come from, and how transparently is it spent?
When seeking information about abortion care by Googling search terms such as “Abortion clinics” or “Abortion in London”, it is not uncommon to come across ads for anti-choice pages. These organisations present themselves as providing impartial, even expert resources. In fact, they are biased, coercive, and wholly unqualified to offer support of any kind.
Google is aware of the issue, and responded by introducing an “Abortion certification policy”:
“In the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland, if you want to run ads using keywords related to getting an abortion, you will first need to be certified as an advertiser that either provides abortions or does not provide abortions. If you are not certified, you won’t be able to run ads using keywords related to getting an abortion.”
In practical terms, this means that when Googling abortion-related terms, users will see ads along with an "Ad disclosure” – stating either “Provides abortions” or “Does not provide abortions”- which should inform the users on whether to click on those links.
The problem is that these disclaimers are not very visible. We have also noticed that in some instances, Google only shows ads from organisations that are NOT abortion providers.
UK Abortion Law - Is abortion legal in England?
The Abortion Act 1967 made abortion legal as long as specific criteria are met (read more on Abortion and Your Rights).
In England, Scotland, and Wales, the Abortion Act 1967 made abortion legal as long as specific criteria are met. It is possible to have an abortion up to 23 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy (gestation), or later in extraordinary circumstances, such as if there is substantial impairment to the fetus, including risk of death.
In Northern Ireland, abortion was decriminalised in 2019, and the new legal framework came into effect in 2020. Abortion is now unconditionally legal up to 12 weeks in Northern Ireland. After 12 weeks, the law is essentially the same as the rest of the UK.
You can read more about how MSI Reproductive Choices supports those travelling to England for abortion care here: Travelling from Northern Ireland
At MSI Reproductive Choices, we offer two types of abortion:
- medical abortion care (also known as abortion with pills) which is available up to 9 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy,
- surgical abortion care up to 23 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy. A surgical abortion is available from 6 weeks of pregnancy, which means that up to 9 weeks and 6 days gestation you can actually choose which abortion treatment is right for you. Your choice will depend on your individual circumstances and how you feel about the different options, and we will help you by talking through the options and how the two treatments work. Read more on how to choose your abortion treatment.
There is no gestational limit for abortion if there is evidence of fatal fetal abnormality, or a significant risk to your life if you continue with the pregnancy.
The terms of the 1967 Abortion Act mean that abortion providers are required by law to ask your reasons for wanting an abortion, and that two doctors need to make sure the requirements of the Abortion Act 1967 are met and sign the relevant certificate. Abortion providers (such as MSI UK) will arrange this for you.
How to access abortion care in England
You don’t need a GP referral to access abortion care in England: you can simply contact an abortion provider (like MSI UK, BPAS or NUPAS) and book your consultation. This is usually done on the phone and it’s the very first step in accessing abortion care. This initial consultation will determine whether you are eligible for a medical or a surgical abortion and will be followed by another appointment. If you are eligible for a medical abortion, you might not even need to visit one of our clinics and we might be able to post you the pills. Call us on 0345 300 8090 or book online to know more.
We are here for you.
Decriminalisation of abortion
The repeal of Roe v Wade in the US has prompted a renewed interest in abortion rights here in the UK - and with that has come greater scrutiny of our laws.
We are proud to have been part of those conversations together with partners and allies, in support of our clients.
We believe that across the whole of the UK, abortion should sit outside criminal law. Like many respected clinical bodies including the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the British Medical Association, and the World Health Organisation, we believe abortion should be regulated the same as any other healthcare.
What would decriminalising abortion mean?
At the moment, in Great Britain, abortion is only legal if two doctors are satisfied that specific conditions are met. (In Northern Ireland, abortion is decriminalised, and available unconditionally up to 12 weeks.) There is no clinical reason for this; it is a consequence of abortion being part of the criminal code.
We believe that abortion should not be criminalised at all. The decision about whether to have an abortion is matter for the person who is pregnant and their doctor. It should not be a criminal matter.
Abortion is one of the most heavily regulated areas of healthcare, despite being a common, safe procedure. Decriminalisation does not mean the regulations which control supply or provision of abortion would change. It means recognising that it is not in the public interest to prosecute people for ending their own pregnancies, or to prosecute clinicians for acting in the best interests of those they treat. Decriminalisation means removing abortion from the criminal law, so it can be regulated in the same way as any other common, safe healthcare treatment.
What can you do to support abortion rights?
MSI Reproductive Choices has not only been supporting people in the UK with their reproductive health options for over 40 years, we are also part of a global organisation working across 37 countries around the world. We believe that everyone should have the right to choose. From contraception to safe abortion and life-saving post-abortion care, we are committed to delivering compassionate, affordable, high-quality services for all. Our organisation has over 9,000 team members working across 37 countries, supporting over 67,000 people to access reproductive choice every day.
Responding to the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe Vs. Wade, Sarah Shaw, MSI Reproductive Choices’ Global Head of Advocacy, said:
“We utterly condemn the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade and end the constitutional right to abortion care. The dismantling of Roe v Wade will provide an opening for the reversal of abortion rights at state level, causing unspeakable harm and threatening decades of progress on gender equality.
As a global abortion provider, we know that the impact of this decision will also be felt around the world. From the Global Gag Rule to US funded anti-choice groups who harass women outside our clinics and lobby governments to restrict access; decisions made in the US have an impact far beyond their borders.”
Read our full statement: Decisions made in the US have an impact far beyond their borders — MSI's statement on Roe v Wade
Join our global campaign to #ProtectChoice
When abortion rights are under attack, we feel it around the world. But together we can #ProtectChoice.
Visit our Protect Choice campaign page to learn about what you can do.