Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture

Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture

Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture

Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture


Boasting more than 970 alphabetically-arranged entries, the Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture surveys British cultural practices and icons in the latter half of the twentieth century. It examines high and popular culture and encompasses both institutional and alternative aspects of British culture. It provides insight into the whole spectrum of British contemporary life. Topics covered include: architecture, pubs, film, internet and current takes on the monarchy. Cross-referencing and a thematic contents list enable readers to identify related articles. The entries range from short biographical synopses to longer overview essays on key issues.This Encyclopedia is essential reading for anyone interested in British culture. It also provides a cultural context for students of English, Modern History and Comparative European Studies.


The Abortion Act of 1967, introduced by the Liberal MP David Steel, legalized in Britain. This Act came into force in April 1968 and applies to England, Wales and Scotland. The core provisions of the Act were that abortion was lawful in certain carefully defined circumstances. First, two registered medical practitioners had to be of the opinion that continuance of pregnancy would either risk the mother’s mental or physical health or her children’s health, or that there was a substantial risk that the child, if born, would suffer from serious mental or physical abnormalities. Second, and more contentiously, the mother’s socio-economic circumstances and psychological health could be taken into consideration in reaching a decision.

The 1967 Act did not recognize a woman’s right to an elective abortion. However, the social clause in the Act has been liberally interpreted to the extent that the right to abortion has been recognized in practice if not in law. Abortion under the provisions of the 1967 Act was initially set at twenty-eight weeks but this was reduced to twenty-four weeks in 1990. Approximately 84 percent of all abortions in Britain are conducted in the first trimester, so lowering the time limit has made little practical difference.

There have been various attempts to lower the time limit. The best known campaign was that of the Liberal MP David Alton, who sought to reduce the cut-off to eighteen weeks. The only major change to the law, however, has been in the course of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990). The main provisions of this Act stemming from the Warnock report, were concerned with the moral issue arising from new reproductive technologies.

The 1990 Act, inter alia, amended the provisions of the 1967 Act by reducing the normal period of abortion to twenty-four weeks but permitting abortion after that period if the child was not going to be born alive or was to be born with a severe handicap. The 1990 Act therefore liberalized the law in some respects while tightening it in others. Until recently, the number of abortions stood more or less constant at just under 180,000 a year. However, the most recent figures show a marked increase of 8.3 percent from 1995. Increases in girls under 16 was 11.3 percent, with teenagers overall showing an increase of 15.2 percent.

It has long been the case that where the mother’s life or well-being is threatened by the continuation of a pregnancy or birth, a doctor or midwife may take all reasonable measures to save that life, even if the cost is the destruction of the unborn child. In moral terms, this is covered by the doctrine of double effect: the intention is primarily to save the mother’s life, the incidence is that the unborn life is sacrificed. There are some areas in which this principle still remains.

It is clearly and unequivocally the case that British law does not recognize the principle of a de jure right to abortion. However, in practice, providing some minimal requirements are met, an elective albeit often privately funded abortion will almost always be permitted. Such abortions can often be legally and medically processed quite quickly. For example, Marie Stopes International controversially offers ‘lunch-time’ abortions at several of its clinics. This regularly raises the question as to whether the law should be refined, to bring the de jure situation into line with factual conditions.

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