Skip to main content
Back to news homepage

Lancet commentary on the 1967 Abortion Act – still fit for purpose?

News 27 October 2017

On the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, RCOG president Professor Lesley Regan and Professor Anna Glasier have published a commentary discussing the act. The article draws together data on abortions worldwide, providing evidence of its limitations and suggesting amendments to be made. Whilst the 1967 act has allowed for increased choice among women in the UK, it has become outdated, requiring reform to match advances in medicine.

Before 1967, abortion accounted for 14% of all maternal deaths due to restricted access and unsafe procedures. The liberalisation of abortions rights globally has saved women’s lives, and yet in the UK, the 1967 act is outdated. The act was made when all abortions were undertaken surgically, and yet today 62% of abortions in England and Wales and 83% in Scotland are medical, making them simpler and safer. However, despite the progress in medicine and evidence that women can manage their own medical abortion, home medical abortions (for any or part of the procedure) remain illegal.

The full commentary published today presents detailed data on abortion worldwide, as well as recommendations for improved laws in the UK. These include allowing nurses to carry out abortions and allowing part of medical abortions to be carried out at home by the patient. The law as it stands prevents women from having an abortion without the consent from two doctors, with the threat of lifetime imprisonment for breaking this law.

Professor Lesley Regan, president of the RCOG, said: “the average age of first birth [in Britain] is 30 years, and most women wish for only two children (some 17% want none). This means that women spend their fertile lives trying to avoid unintended pregnancy. No contraceptive method is 100% perfect. The reality is that women will always need to access abortion and we need to re-learn how to provide better care.”

Read the Lancet Commentary