The 1967 Abortion Act
From 1861 the Offences Against the Person Act prohibited abortion in the UK. Women who needed to end a pregnancy resorted to inducing their own abortion or having a backstreet abortion. Many women suffered serious injury. Some lost their lives.
In 1938 a court acquitted a doctor prosecuted for providing an abortion for a young woman who had been raped, on the grounds that continuing the pregnancy would leave her a mental and physical wreck. Following this case some doctors agreed to provide abortions for women on psychiatric grounds. This option was only open to women with the means to pay a private doctor. Ordinary women continued to die in the backstreets.
The 1967 Abortion Act set out legal exceptions to the 1861 Act and allowed doctors to legally authorise and provide safe abortions. Women in England, Scotland and Wales can access legal abortions funded by the NHS.
The Abortion Act has never been extended to Northern Ireland. Every year hundreds of women travel from Northern Ireland to the British mainland to access a safe, legal abortion; or risk criminal prosecution by buying abortion medication online.
For further reading:
Britain's abortion law: what it says and why
Abortion law reformers: pioneers of change
Abortion law reform in Britain 1964-2003: a personal account