December 17th, 2014

Don’t overstate risks of abortion

By Jolene Tan, Programmes and Communications Senior Manager, AWARE

littmann-master-classic-ii-stethoscope-adult-navy-blue-2147-12-214-240-lrPre-abortion counselling should facilitate patients’ choices, rather than seek to influence them, and provide scientifically sound and accurate information, as well as non-judgmental support.

Importantly, the likelihood and significance of medical risks associated with abortion should not be exaggerated or misrepresented.

For instance, contrary to claims in the letter, “Provide support, comfort to all women mulling over abortion” (Dec 6), terminations do not typically affect fertility.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service states: “Having an abortion will not usually affect your chances of becoming pregnant and having normal pregnancies in future.”

The Guttmacher Institute has likewise found that abortions in the first trimester “pose virtually no long-term risk” of infertility.

Indeed, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) recommends that “women should be informed that abortion is a safe procedure, for which major complications and mortality are rare at all gestations.” Many medical experts, including the RCOG, agree also that abortion does not typically pose a risk to mental health, and that “the predominant feeling following abortion is one of relief and diminution of stress”.

The American Psychological Association has also found that among adult women with unplanned pregnancies, choosing a single first-trimester abortion carries no greater chance of mental health problems than delivering the pregnancy.

In other words, scientific evidence does not support the idea of post-abortion syndrome. The early abortion of unplanned pregnancies does not cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

Policymakers and the public should recognise that each patient seeking to terminate a pregnancy is an individual with specific needs, values, aspirations and circumstances.

The patient herself is best placed to understand and assess the meaning and impact, for herself and her family, of bringing a pregnancy to term. Before approaching a doctor, she would probably have consulted those in her life she trusts. If her partner’s involvement in the process would help, she is likely to solicit it, regardless of whether this is a component of pre-abortion counselling. (Pre-abortion counselling should be holistic, affirming”; Dec 8)

Both the World Health Organization and the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights identify access to health-related information as a crucial part of access to health care.

We hope that the proposed changes to the pre-abortion counselling regime will make accurate information and non-judgmental support available to all patients, regardless of background.

The appropriate measure of success is how well women are supported and empowered through the process, rather than any particular reproductive outcome.

This letter was first published in TODAY Voices on 10 December 2014.

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