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The regulatory cliff edge between contraception and abortion: the legal and moral significance of implantation
  1. Sally Sheldon
  1. Correspondence to Professor Sally Sheldon, Kent Law School, Eliot College, Kent University, Canterbury CT2 7NS, UK; s.sheldon{at}


In regulating the voluntary interruption of pregnancy, English law has accorded particular significance to two biological events. First, ‘viability’, the moment when a fetus is said to acquire the capacity for independent life, plays an important role in grounding restrictions on access to legal abortion later in pregnancy. Second, equally significantly but far less frequently discussed, ‘implantation’ marks the point in pregnancy from which abortion laws apply. This paper focuses on this earlier biological event. It suggests that an unquestioning reliance on implantation as marking an appropriate moment of transition between two radically different legal frameworks is deeply problematic and is rendered still less sustainable in the light of the development of new technologies that potentially operate shortly after the moment of implantation.

  • Abortion
  • Bills, Laws and Cases
  • Law
  • Legal Aspects
  • Reproductive Medicine

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