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Dr HANX talks abortion

A Gynae Doctor Explains Everything You Need To Know About Abortion

With 10+ years of experience in NHS gynaecology and obstetrics under her belt, our Co-Founder Dr Sarah Welsh is an expert in women's health: from fertility, to contraception, to sexual health. She's a big believer in being open and honest about traditionally taboo topics to enable all of us to advocate for our health and happiness - so this month, we're talking abortion.

TW: please be aware we’ll be discussing pregnancy and abortion rights in this piece.

An abortion is the medical process of ending a pregnancy, so it does not end in the birth of a baby. It is also known as termination of pregnancy, and it can be done by taking a pill or with a minor surgical procedure. Whatever your opinion, one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime, and terminating a pregnancy is not an easy decision. It comes with physical and emotional effects, varying in severity from case to case. Some women may be certain they want an abortion, and feel empowered making this life-changing choice, while others find it a tortuous decision to make that has a long-lasting effect.

No matter your decision, the education around abortion need to be there, and women need to be supported in making this empowering decision. After all, it comes down to choice, and everyone has the right to a say in what happens to their body. Parenting may be an impossible thought to many women who fall pregnant. Often in an unplanned pregnancy, women cannot afford to bring a child into the world, may not be emotionally able to care for a baby or simply are not ready for such a responsibility.

Other women have medical complications or problems that mean their life is at risk if they continue with the pregnancy, and sometimes the baby would be born with a severe disability, meaning the pregnancy is terminated. Either way you simply need to talk to someone about your options, need more information, or want support in making the decision, this difficult process can be made manageable with the right support.

How do I get an abortion?

Only a licensed clinic, NHS or private, can carry out abortions. Women in the UK are able to have an abortion free of charge on the NHS, which funds over 90% of all abortions. There are many ways to access abortion services, including impartial advice and support from:

  • Contacting a service directly: British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Marie Stopes UK and the National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service (NUPAS)
  • See your GP who can refer you to the correct service
  • Visit a contraception, family planning of GUM clinic for a referral to an abortion service

What happens?

After being referred to an abortion clinic, you will discuss your decision with a specialist who will advise and support you. Terminating a pregnancy can be done through medical or surgical methods. Depending on how far through the pregnancy you are, these options may vary slightly from clinic to clinic. Your medical history and personal preferences are taken into consideration when deciding which method of abortion to take.

Most abortions in England, Wales and Scotland are carried out before 24 weeks of pregnancy (calculated from the first day of your last period), but can be carried out after 24 weeks in special circumstances such as if the mother's life were at risk or the child would be born with a severe disability. It is important to note that information about an abortion doesn't go on your medical record, and all the details are kept confidential.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy:

You have two pills that induce a miscarriage. The first pill ends the hormones of pregnancy then the second is given to cause the womb to contract and complete the abortion. In some cases not all pregnancy tissue is expelled with this method and on occasion, surgical termination has to be carried out.

Surgical Termination of Pregnancy:

With surgical termination you are given a general anaesthetic and a small suction tube is inserted through the neck of your womb (cervix) to remove the tissue of pregnancy. The procedure is quick and does not require any cuts or scars. However, there are always risks involved with general anaesthetic that your doctor will discuss with you.

What are the risks?

The earlier the procedure is carried out in the pregnancy, the safer it is, so it is advisable to talk to a specialist as soon as you find out you are pregnant and considering an abortion. Generally, abortions are very safe and most women do not have any physical complications. However there are some risks to be aware of:

  • Infection of the womb
  • Pregnancy tissue remaining in the womb
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Damage to the neck of the womb (cervix) or damage to the womb
  • If complications occur, further treatment (such as surgery) may be required

If you do suffer from any of these complications, your doctor will support you during recovery. The charities mentioned above are also fantastic sources of support if you need to talk about any struggles throughout the process.

What happens after?

After an abortion you are advised to take a few days to recover, and expect some vaginal bleeding and discomfort for a couple of weeks. Many women feel relieved after the abortion is complete, but some may also feel guilty or upset. Many services offer post-abortion counselling so you can talk about these feelings following the procedure. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family during what can be a difficult time.

Your chances of having a normal pregnancy are not affected after an abortion.It is possible to get pregnant immediately after a termination of pregnancy, so you must consider contraception to avoid this. Whatever your reasons, there is support out there and nobody should have to go through an abortion alone. 

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