Ending a pregnancy

Millennial couple sit at couch talk with expert

If you are considering ending a wanted pregnancy because of what has been detected in your baby, it is very normal to experience a range of emotions. You may also be very worried about what you will have to go through. Nothing can make this experience easy, but good information and individualised support can help you to prepare and to think through your options.

At ARC we have many years’ experience supporting people through these difficult experiences. We have produced a leaflet that contains information about the practical and emotional issues you might face in ending a pregnancy.

The law and termination of pregnancy: ‘Ground E’

When a test result or scan findings show a significant issue with your baby’s development, doctors may offer you a termination of pregnancy. This is because they have decided that the finding fits the wording of the abortion law that says that there is ‘substantial risk’ that if the baby was born he or she would not survive or would have ‘significant handicap’ (the wording is not very sensitive as the law was written in the 1960s). You can have a termination at any time in pregnancy under this clause of the law which is known as ‘Ground E’.

Change in the law at 24 weeks

Before 24 weeks, if the doctors do not offer a termination of pregnancy, a woman can usually still have one as there is another clause in the abortion law that allows it. But this clause can only be used until 24 weeks of pregnancy. After 24 weeks the doctors have to be confident that what has been diagnosed in a baby fits ‘Ground E’ of the law.  If you want a termination after 24 weeks but your doctors do not agree to this, you can ask for a second opinion.

Methods of termination

This is just a short summary of the methods used to end a pregnancy:

  • If you are less than 13 weeks pregnant, most hospitals will usually give you the choice of medical induction (labour and delivery) or a surgical termination under general anaesthetic.
  • If you are over 13 weeks pregnant – most hospitals can only offer medical induction to end the pregnancy. This is because there are few trained surgeons working in the NHS. It is possible to have a surgical procedure up to 23 weeks 6 days) with an independent abortion provider, such as the BPAS or MSI Reproductive Choices under NHS contract. Although independent services in the UK are highly competent and professional, for some women it can feel difficult being in an environment where terminations are being carried out because the pregnancy is unwanted.BPAS have a special booking line for women who want to attend one of their clinics for a termination for fetal anomaly: 0345 437 0360.
  • Most hospitals give a tablet of Mifepristone 24-48 hours before admission to hospital for the induction. If you find this is too long to wait, you can ask for admission to hospital 12 hours after taking the tablet. There is a 1% chance you may begin labour earlier than expected. If there are any signs, for example a ‘show’ or pains, you should go straight to the hospital. If you have any concerns after taking the tablet, contact your doctor or midwife.
  • If you are more than 21 weeks pregnant – it may be suggested that the baby is given an injection (the medical name for this is feticide). This is to ensure that the baby dies before the induction of labour. This procedure is usually done in a specialist fetal medicine centre.