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Social Sciences - Hot Topics - Abortion

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History and British Law
In the nineteenth century abortion was illegal in Britain . A lot of women were forced, due to circumstances, to have a back-street abortion. Many back-street and self-induced abortions went wrong or resulted in death and this encouraged doctors to campaign to make abortion legal.
Britain was the first country to legalise abortion and in 1967 the Abortion Act was passed.
A woman in Britain can have an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. It can happen later in rare cases if the woman's life is in danger. Before an abortion can be undertaken, a woman needs to get permission from two doctors.


In the USA the Roe vs. Wade landmark case in the Supreme Court legalised abortion. This case shaped the American abortion laws from 1973 to 1989 but controversy has surrounded this ruling ever since. Pro-life and Pro-choice groups are deeply divided and there still isn't a clear resolution to the debate. Each state in America still continues to make its own ruling on abortion.
In recent times, right wing Pro-Life groups have made headlines by making threats against doctors who carry out abortions. Unfortunately these have even resulted in threats to their lives.


No religious group actively supports abortion but some religions do accept that there are situations when an abortion may be necessary.

The Roman Catholic Church is the only major religion to rule that abortion is unacceptable in all circumstances. This does include the death of the mother. This ruling had a major impact in Catholic countries.
For example, in Ireland until their law changed recently, Irish women used to come over to England to get abortions.

The Church of England teaches that abortion is wrong because it is denying the foetus the right to life. However, in extreme circumstances which pose a serious risk to the health of the mother, the mother's needs should override the rights of the foetus.

Judaism teaches that life begins at the moment of birth, so abortion is discouraged unless the mother's life is at risk.

Islamic and Hindu Scriptures also allow abortion under these circumstances.

Pros and Cons

Listed below are the most common arguments used in the continuing debate that is both for and against abortion.

  • An embryo/foetus does not have the same value as a born person
  • Women understand their own mental and physical state better than anyone else and should be free to make their own moral choices.
  • Legal abortion is safe
  • It isn't always possible to prevent an unwanted pregnancy
  • Better for children to be born to parents who want them and love them
  • Human life begins at conception and abortion destroys respect for human life. Abortion is a violent act to both mother and child
  • There are alternatives to abortion, e.g.. adoption
  • Abortion is rarely necessary to save the life of the woman
  • Abortion damages women mentally because they suffer from guilt and trauma post-abortion

A selection of web sites



Life UK (Pro-Life)


Marie Stopes (Pro-Choice)


Society For the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC)


British Pregnancy Advice Service www.bpas.org/bpaswoman