An abortion, or termination of pregnancy, is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It is ended either by taking medicines or having a surgical procedure. Abortions are safer the earlier they are carried out. Getting advice early gives you more time to make a decision if you’re unsure.
When an abortion can be carried out
Women and girls can request an abortion where the pregnancy is less than 12 weeks.
Abortions can also be carried out up until 24 weeks where there is a risk to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl.
Abortions can be carried out after 24 weeks in very limited circumstances, for example, if the mother's life is at risk or if the child would be born with a severe disability.
Before an abortion you may be asked to undergo an ultrasound scan to work out how many weeks pregnant you are.
The length of pregnancy is calculated from the first day of your last menstrual period.
How to get an abortion
How to get an abortion will depend on how many weeks pregnant you are and which postcode area you live.
If your pregnancy is less than 10 weeks you can access early abortion services in Northern Ireland, within one of the five Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts (Belfast, Northern, South Eastern, Southern and Western).
Your home postcode will decide which of the five HSC Trusts will offer abortion services to you.
If you live in the Northern HSC Trust area you can access an early abortion service if your pregnancy is less than 12 weeks.
To access early abortion services in Northern Ireland you should contact the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) which offers a central booking point for women living in Northern Ireland who need advice, counselling, or access to abortion services.
Request a consultation online or contact BPAS on 0345 730 4030.
BPAS is the only access point to abortion in Northern Ireland and all treatments are through HSC Trust clinics only.
No independent clinics in Northern Ireland offer abortion.
If your pregnancy is over 10 weeks (12 weeks and over for Northern HSC Trust residents), or if you need treatment not available in Northern Ireland, care can be accessed in Great Britain without charge and without having to pay for travel and accommodation.
You can access these services in Great Britain, by contacting the MSI Reproductive Choices central booking system at 0333 234 2184.
Abortion services are not offered by GPs in Northern Ireland, but your doctor should be able to offer advice around pregnancy choices and how to access services.
Deciding to have an abortion
The decision to have an abortion is yours alone.
Some women may be certain they want to have an abortion, while others may find it more difficult to make a decision.
You may also want to speak to your partner, friends or family, but you do not have to. They do not have a say in your decision.
If you're under 16, your parents do not usually need to be told. The doctor or nurse may encourage you to tell a parent, carer or other adult you trust, but they will not make you. If there are any safeguarding concerns they will talk to you about how best to address these.
What happens during an abortion
Before having an abortion, you'll have an opportunity to talk about your decision and what happens next.
Whenever possible, you will be given a choice of how you would like the abortion to be carried out.
Abortion can either be medical, where you take two tablets usually 24 to 48 hours apart, to induce an abortion, or in some cases, a surgical procedure to remove the pregnancy is an option.
The service available to you will depend on your individual circumstances and whatever services are available in each of the HSC Trusts.
While services are established in Northern Ireland, women and girls who choose to have a surgical abortion can access funded services in Great Britain, these can be accessed by contacting Marie Stopes International (MSI) Reproductive Choices central booking system at 0333 234 2184.
After an abortion, you'll probably need to take things easy for a few days. It's likely you'll have some discomfort and vaginal bleeding for up to two weeks.
Risks of an abortion
Abortion is a safe procedure. Abortions are safest, and happen with less pain and bleeding, when carried out as early as possible in pregnancy.
Most women will not experience any problems, but there is a small risk of complications, such as:
- infection of the womb (uterus)
- some of the pregnancy remaining in the womb
- excessive bleeding
- damage to the womb or entrance of the womb (cervix)
If complications do occur, you may need further treatment, including surgery.
Having an abortion will not affect your chances of becoming pregnant again and having normal pregnancies in the future.
You may be able to get pregnant immediately after an abortion. You should use contraception if you do not want to get pregnant.
Contraception and advice
There are many different forms of contraception and different methods will suit different people.
Sexual and Reproductive Health clinics offer a full range of contraception including Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) such as coils and implants, which are the most effective types of contraception.
To find out what is available in your HSC Trust area, visit the links below:
- Belfast HSC Trust - sexual and reproductive healthcare service
- Northern HSC Trust - contraceptive services
- South Eastern HSC Trust - sexual and reproductive health (family planning)
- Southern HSC Trust - contraceptive and sexual health services
- Western HSC Trust - sexual health services
SH:24 offer online access to the combined contraceptive pill (‘the pill’), the progesterone only pill (‘mini pill’) and to emergency contraception (‘the morning after pill’).
Common Youth offer advice and contraception to young people aged under 25.
GP practices can prescribe contraception, with some practices providing a full range of contraceptive services.
Emergency contraception (‘the morning after pill’) can also be accessed free through community pharmacies in Northern Ireland. Community pharmacies can offer advice, support and if clinically appropriate emergency hormonal contraception to women who request emergency contraception under Pharmacy First.
Progesterone only pills (Hana and Lovima) are available to buy in pharmacies and online without prescription.