abortion (legal requirements)

Last edited 02/2022 and last reviewed 02/2022

The Abortion Act 1967, as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, governs abortion in England, Scotland and Wales (Great Britain).

  • An abortion can take place only if, two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that an abortion is justified within the terms of the Act.
  • Only a registered medical practitioner (doctor) can terminate a pregnancy.
  • The notification form must be completed by the doctor taking responsibility for the procedure.
  • The Abortion Act requires that ‘any treatment for the termination of pregnancy’ must take place in an NHS hospital or approved premises:
    • ‘treatment’ includes prescription and administration of both drugs used for the two stages of medical abortion

Doctors are under a legal obligation to complete the following forms:

  • HSA1 (Certificate A in Scotland): Two doctors are required to sign the HSA1 form, which is the certificate of opinion before an abortion is performed under Section 1(1) of the Abortion Act. The HSA1 form must be kept for 3 years.
  • HSA2 (Certificate B in Scotland): To be completed by the doctor within 24 hours of an emergency abortion and kept for 3 years. In cases such as these, the requirement for the opinion of two doctors does not apply.
  • HSA4: Must be completed by the doctor and sent to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) either manually or electronically within 14 days of the abortion taking place. As is the case with the manual form, only doctors terminating the pregnancy are able to authorise the electronic form. In Scotland, the equivalent Notification Form must be sent to the CMO in Scotland within 7 days of the abortion taking place. There are as yet no electronic means of notification


  1. Royal college of obstetricians and gynaecologists (RCOG) 2011. The care of women requesting induced abortion. Evidence based clinical guideline number 7.  https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/abortion-guideline_web_1.pdf (accessed 14 January 2022)