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Abortion

What is an abortion?

We should state upfront that as practising Catholics we do not approve of or condone abortion unless there is good medical reasons so the following provides the plain medical facts about abortion.The word abortion means to end a pregnancy so that it does not result in a live birth. This could be by miscarriage (also known as spontaneous abortion) or by an induced abortion, usually called termination of pregnancy. A miscarriage happens naturally, an induced abortion is deliberate.

What is a legal abortion?

The 1967 Abortion Act makes abortion legal if the pregnancy is less than 24 weeks and two doctors agree that the abortion can be carried out. The two doctors need to agree that one or more of the following apply:

  • The woman's life is at greater risk by continuing the pregnancy than terminating it.
  • The termination is necessary to prevent permanent injury to the woman's physical or mental health.
  • There is a reasonable risk that if the child were born it would suffer from serious physical or mental handicaps.
  • There is a reasonable risk that if the child were born, any existing children the woman has are more likely to suffer injury to their physical or mental health.

The way doctors interpret the law will depend on their own personal feelings about abortion. Some doctors may take the woman's social and economic circumstances into consideration.

After 24 weeks an abortion can only take place if the woman's life is in danger or if there is a high risk that the baby would be seriously handicapped.

Who can have an abortion?

Any woman or girl, married or single can have an abortion if the reason is one of those outlined in the law and two doctors sign the form. If you have made your mind up that you definitely want an abortion, say so firmly and explain your reasons.

When can a woman have an abortion?

As soon as a woman has missed a period a pregnancy test should be done to confirm whether she is pregnant or not. As soon as pregnancy is confirmed, an abortion can be carried out, as long as she is sure she does not want the pregnancy to continue. Very early abortions can take place soon after the woman has missed her first period.

Most hospitals and clinics will not consider termination beyond 18-20 weeks. If you are considering having an abortion you should seek your doctor's advice as soon as possible. To pinpoint the exact stage of the pregnancy an ultrasound scan is used.

There are time limits to abortions so the sooner you seek help the better. An abortion on the N.H.S. may be difficult after 14 weeks and you may have to wait a while.

Where are abortions carried out and who does them?

Abortions must be carried out by a qualified doctor in an N.H.S. hospital or in a clinic/nursing home that has been approved for abortions by the Department of Health.

Can a doctor refuse to do an abortion?

The law says that no doctor or nurse must help with an abortion if he/she has a moral objection to the procedure. A lot of people have strong personal feelings about certain issues and doctors are among many who feel abortion is wrong. If your doctor is unhelpful and not sympathetic with your request for an abortion, you can ask to be referred to another doctor who is willing to give advice and help.

Is it easy to get an abortion?

The ease of having an abortion will depend on the reasons and how far into the pregnancy you are. Abortions up to about 12 weeks are a relatively simple operation. After this period it becomes more complicated and may be risky for the woman. Because of the risks that may be involved, doctors are less likely to carry on with the request for an abortion after 12 weeks. If a woman lives in an area where it is not easy to get an N.H.S. abortion it may be easier for her to pay the fees herself at a suitable private clinic.

How much does it cost?

The N.H.S. provides a free service, but you will need a referral from two doctors and there are usually waiting times varying between 2 and 4 weeks. In some areas it may be difficult to get a free abortion, with very few consultants willing to accept abortion cases.

Some women choose to use a clinic run by an abortion charity or a private clinic to avoid this waiting period. Fees will vary, but an average fee for an abortion is £300.00 - £500.00.

Is it confidential?

All doctors' visits are confidential even in cases where the woman is under 16 years of age. All staff working at hospitals, clinics and surgeries are under strict confidentiality rules.

Does a girl under the age of 16 need to have her parent's consent for an abortion?

If the girl wanting the abortion shows she can understand what is involved in the process, she may give her own consent. The doctor will encourage the girl to involve her parents because support will be needed emotionally and sometimes physically.

Some doctors are not prepared to do an abortion for a girl under the age of 16 without her parent's consent. If the girl is certain she will not tell her parents then the doctors will have to decide if the girl is mature enough to understand what she is doing. If the doctors do not believe the girl is mature enough, they will require a suitable guardian’s consent.

Anyone over the age of 16 has the right to consent their own medical treatment including abortion.

Does the father of the child have to give consent?

The law at present states the father’s consent is not needed.

How are abortions carried out?

There are 2 commonly used methods to terminate a pregnancy.

An abortion pill can be used if an abortion is carried out in the first 9 weeks of pregnancy. This is called a ‘medical abortion’ as it does not involve any surgery. During a medical abortion the woman is given a course of 2 different types of tablets. After taking the first tablets, the woman will then have to return to the hospital or clinic 48 hours later, to have the other tablet placed in her vagina (like a vaginal thrush pessary). These drugs will usually result in the woman having a miscarriage within the following 6 hours. The woman will experience symptoms rather like a heavy and painful period.

Most abortions before 13 weeks are by ‘vacuum aspiration’ (the suction method). A local or general anaesthetic is required. During a vacuum aspiration abortion a thin, round tube is eased into the uterus (womb), through the cervix - the passage that links the vagina to the womb. Suction is applied to remove the contents of the uterus and the pregnancy is terminated. This method will not involve any stitches and so there is no wound. Most healthy women can go home the same day.

The type of abortion you are offered will depend upon the length of the pregnancy and the facilities that are available at your chosen hospital or clinic. There are a few other methods for later abortions, which your doctor will discuss with you.

What does a woman have to do after an abortion?

A visit to the doctors about 2 - 3 weeks after the abortion will be necessary to check all is well and also to ensure the abortion is complete.

Are there any long-term effects of abortion?

Having an abortion should not affect a woman’s fertility.

You may experience some emotional problems, if you ever need to talk, your doctor or a professional counsellor will help as much as they can.

For further help and advice on an unplanned pregnancy or if you are concerned after you have had an abortion call CAREconfidential on 0800 028 2228, this is a UK free-phone service.

For further help and advice on an unplanned pregnancy or if you are concerned after you have had an abortion call British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) on 08457 30 40 30, the call will be charged at a local rate.

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