An abortion, or termination, is the medical procedure to end a pregnancy so that it does not result in the birth of a baby.
If you are pregnant you may be feeling confused about what to do. You might be considering an abortion, or termination. This is a medical procedure where your pregnancy is ended.
Women have abortions for different reasons; for some women it may be because they do not feel they can cope with having a baby, or because they became pregnant by accident, whilst others may decide to because there is something wrong with the foetus, or because continuing with the pregnancy could be life-threatening.
It’s a difficult decision to make so it might be worthwhile getting some facts and some support before you make it.
Deciding to have an abortion is not always an easy thing for a woman to do, and it can take time to make a decision that feels right for you.
The important thing to remember is that it is your body and your choice to continue with a pregnancy or not. Some women find it very helpful to talk things through with someone, such as a trusted friend or family member, or a nurse or counsellor at a young person’s or family planning clinic.
If you are thinking about having an abortion, it might be helpful to think through what impact a baby might have on your life at this point; will you have to give up school or work, do you have somewhere suitable to live, what kind of support would you get from families and friends, will you have enough money?
How do you get an abortion?
To have an abortion you need to be referred by a doctor. This could be your GP, or it could be a doctor at a family planning or a young person’s clinic. If the referral is for an NHS abortion it can take between two and four weeks before the abortion will take place. If you go privately, for example with Marie Stopes or the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, there will be a shorter waiting time.
Some doctors have a moral objection to abortion and choose not to refer their patients for one, but they must let the woman know of their objections and refer her to another doctor.
If you think or know you are pregnant and don’t think you can have a baby it is important that you speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible, especially if you are considering having an abortion.
All women can access information on pregnancy choices free on the NHS. The majority of those women wishing to have an abortion will be referred to a private healthcare provider but the care will be covered free on the NHS. There might be regional variations that depend on the health and well-being of the woman, her age, and how far advanced the pregnancy is.
If you do decide to have an abortion it’s better for your health to have it earlier on in the pregnancy because there are more types of abortions that can be offered to you. These can all be discussed when you go to a pregnancy choice consultation.
If you’ve got doubts about your choices it’s probably better to talk to someone – increasing your options is always a good thing. Besides, ignoring the fact that you’re pregnant isn’t going to make it go away.
Depending on where you live in the UK and how old you are, there are certain legal limits to consider too.
Abortions at a private practice
Some women prefer to have an abortion through a private clinic because generally there is a shorter waiting time. Going privately an abortion can cost between £450 and £1,775, depending on which stage of pregnancy the woman is at.
There are varying abortion laws across the UK, so it is important to find out what the laws are where you live so you can get the best treatment available to you.
England, Wales and Scotland
It is legal to have an abortion in England, Wales and Scotland up until 24 weeks of pregnancy, provided that the woman has the agreement of two doctors that it would be more harmful to her physical or mental health, or the physical and mental health of any children she already has, to continue with pregnancy.
What this usually means is a woman explaining to a doctor why she does not feel she can continue with the pregnancy and that doctor’s decision being approved by a second doctor.
It is also possible for a woman to have an abortion after 24 weeks if the foetus has severe abnormalities or continuing the pregnancy would endanger her life or cause serious physical and mental harm
Abortion in Northern Ireland is severely restricted, which means women often travel to the mainland UK for services. In Northern Ireland, abortion is only allowed under special circumstances, such as if the pregnant woman has a serious medical or psychological condition that would jeopardise her life if the pregnancy continues, or if a foetal abnormality is detected that threatens the life of the mother and would have a serious effect on her physical or mental health.
In Jersey it is legal for a woman to have an abortion up until 12 weeks under normal conditions. However, there is a one week ‘cooling-off period’ where the woman must wait before having the procedure so they can think the decision through fully. Between 13 and 24 weeks, a woman can have an abortion if the mother’s life is in danger or there is a foetal abnormality.
If you’re under 16
Once a person is 16 they are able to make decisions about and consent to medical procedures, including abortion, without the consent of a parent or guardian.
However, it is possible to have an abortion without parental consent if you are under 16 if the doctor feels that you are mature enough to understand what you are agreeing to and it is within your best interests for your parents not to know.
There are a few different methods of abortion that are used, depending on what stage the pregnancy is at.
Up to nine weeks
If you have an abortion up to nine weeks, the most common method used is the medical abortion, sometimes known as the abortion pill. This method does not involve any surgery or anaesthetic.
The medical abortion involves taking two medications which cause a miscarriage. The medication is taken 48 hours apart, and so requires two visits to the clinic, in addition to the initial assessment. The first medication is a pill, mifepristone, which you swallow.
The second medication is prostaglandin, a pessary that is inserted into the vagina 36-48 hours later. Four to six hours after this the pregnancy will end in a very heavy bleed, and you may experience painful, period-pain type cramps.
Between seven and 15 weeks
If you have an abortion between seven and 15 weeks, the most common method used is vacuum aspiration. This is not a surgical procedure, but does involve having a local or, in some cases, a general anaesthetic.
Vacuum aspiration involves a day visit or an overnight stay in a clinic. A tube is inserted into the vagina and passed through the cervix to the womb and the pregnancy is ended by the foetus and contents of the womb being sucked out. This all happens very quickly and most women will be able to return home within a few hours.
Over 15 weeks
As a pregnancy continues, the foetus grows bigger and so methods of abortion over 15 weeks may vary depending on the stage of pregnancy. In general they usually involve having a general anaesthetic, and the surgical dilation of the cervix to enable removal of the foetus using suction and forceps. If the pregnancy is over 20 weeks you will be required to stay in the hospital overnight.
It is also possible that you could have a late medical abortion between 13 and 20 weeks, however, there would be higher doses of medication used and it will take longer to complete. Most women could still go home the same day, but some might need an overnight stay in hospital.
What happens afterwards?
Within the weeks following the abortion you will see a doctor for a check-up. Also, after an abortion it is normal to experience bleeding and discomfort for a few days, and it might feel a bit like you are having a period. But if you are bleeding very heavily and feel very unwell it is important to see a doctor in case you have developed an infection.
Different women will experience different emotions after having an abortion. Some women may need time off work but others will continue as normal. It’s important to have someone you can talk to if you need support at this time and you can ask the clinic where to go for help.
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