This law made it a felony to kill a child who was capable of being born alive and the time from conception enshrined to be the time the foetus was declared viable was set to be 28 weeks. After this time, abortion was not to take place unless it was advised for by a doctor and/or be seen that the continuance of the pregnancy would cause the termination of the life of the mother. The law also made it clear that that a doctor would perform an abortion legally if he/she was satisfied that the continuance of the pregnancy was liable to endanger the life of the expectant mother8. The Abortion Law Reform association was formed in 1936 by people who felt that the legislation of Abortion was unsatisfactory9.
This association pressured on the law to be amended to stop the legislation of Abortion. The Bourne Case 1938 set the platform for the amending of the Act on abortion. In this case, a young woman was gang raped by a group of soldiers and she conceived. Dr. Bourne as came to be known of this case performed an abortion for the woman and he was later prosecuted.
Dr. Bourne in his defence argued that it was important to terminate the pregnancy to restore the physical and mental health of the woman10. The doctor was not executed and this set a new era and turning point in the abortion law. The ruling of the Bourne case set a new platform where many women conducted abortions citing their mental health as the reason for doing it. The consent of a psychiatrist was all that they needed to perform the operation.
However due to the fact that only the wealthy women could be able to get the consent of a psychiatrist, illegal abortions came to the rise. These involved illegal methods many of which turned tragic. By 1950s, about 40 women were dying annually from abortion related complications while many more were left injured. The Abortion Act was passed in 196711 and it is always viewed as one of the greatest achievements of the women’s movement pushing for the same. The Bill was passed to cater for the public health concerns that were being projected in relation to abortion.
The Act gives the doctors the mandate to weigh the risks involved in allowing abortion considering the health of the mother and the child in relation to the continuance of the pregnancy. The law has faced much resistance but it has maintained its position. In 1990 an amendment was done to the 1967 Act by the Human fertilisation and Embryology Act12. The Act reduced the original time limit from 28 weeks as set initially to 24 weeks from which the foetus was to be termed viable and thereby restrict abortion unless under the doctor’s advice that keeping the pregnancy posed serious danger to the mother mentally and/or physically.
-, Why Abortion?: Understanding why Women Choose to have an Abortion.(Family Planning Association Press, 2008).
Abortion Act 1967 (UK)
Health Services Act 1980 (UK)
Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990 (UK)
Keown J, Abortion, Doctors and the Law: Some Aspects of the Legal Regulation in England from 1803-1982 (n.p. 2002)
Puppick G, Abortion and the European Convention on Human Rights, Irish Journal of Legal Studies, Vol 2.
Helena Kennedy, Eve was framed. (Vintage Publisher, 1993)
Paton Vs United Kingdom|1978|8416|78|QB276|High Court of Justice, Liverpool.
Vo Vs France|1991|53924|00|Lyons Criminal Court, Lyon.
B.H. Vs Norway|1986|17004|90|Oslo City Court, Oslo.
HMSO Publications Staff, Abortion Statistics (OPCS Series AB #20): Legal Abortions Carried Out Under the 1967 Abortion Act in England and Wales, (HMSO Publisher, 1993).
Sally Sheldon, Beyond Control: Medical Power and Abortion Law, (Pluto Press, 1997).
Education for Choice-Supporting Young People’s Right to Informed choice on Abortion (n.d)
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: The Abortion Time Limit.
The ‘Right to Life’ Commentary on Article 2 (Author not Listed)
Center for Reproductive Rights (Part one)
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950) as amended by protocol 11 (ETS No. 5)