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
Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland.
Women and girls can access an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and above 24 weeks in limited circumstances, for example, if the woman's life is at risk or in cases of severe fetal impairment or fatal fetal abnormality.
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
Abortion services are available from the five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland.
Abortion care is available up to 18 weeks of pregnancy in Northern Ireland.
It can be accessed by contacting the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) which offers advice, counselling and access to abortion services.
- Request a consultation online
- phone: 0345 730 4030
BPAS is the only access point to abortion in Northern Ireland.
No independent clinics in Northern Ireland offer abortion. Abortion services are not offered by GPs in Northern Ireland.
If your pregnancy is over 18 weeks, you can access free abortion care in Great Britain. You will not have to pay for travel and accommodation.
To access these services in Great Britain, contact the MSI Reproductive Choices central booking system at 0333 234 2184.
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. The decision is yours.
If you need support when considering your options when faced with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, non-directive pregnancy choices counselling is available at:
- Pregnancy choices counselling
- phone: 028 9031 6100
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 or surgical.
Medical abortion involves taking tablets, usually 24 to 48 hours apart, to end the pregnancy.
Surgical abortion involves a procedure/ operation.
The type of procedure/ operation depends on the stage of the pregnancy.
In Northern Ireland, surgical abortion is available where the pregnancy is less than 18 weeks.
While surgical services for pregnancies more than 18 weeks gestation are being established in Northern Ireland, women and girls, whose pregnancy is more than 18 weeks can access funded surgical services in Great Britain.
These can be accessed by contacting 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 local 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.
Safe access zones
Safe access zones are in place at health care premises providing lawful abortion services.
It is illegal for women accessing these services and staff working at the premises to be impeded, recorded, influenced or to be caused harassment, alarm or distress within the safe access zone areas.
There are eight safe access zones in Northern Ireland.
The zones are:
- Southern Trust - Craigavon Area Hospital - 100m
- Southern Trust - Daisy Hill Hospital - 130m
- Belfast Trust - College Street - 130m
- Belfast Trust - Bradbury Wellbeing and Treatment Centre - 150m
- Northern Trust - Causeway Hospital - 100m
- Western Trust - Altnagelvin Hospital - 100m
- South Eastern Trust - Lagan Valley Hospital - 100m
- South Eastern Trust - Ulster Hospital - 100m
Further information is displayed at the protected premises and on the Department of Health and HSC Trust websites.