Abortions are in most cases very safe procedures, when done properly. The risks to health and life from illegal abortions obtained in backstreet conditions are substantially higher. Thankfully, in the UK it is possible to obtain an abortion legally and safely.
Abortions on the NHS
96% of women have their abortion on the NHS. There are clinics and hospitals that offer abortions all around the country, so the pregnant woman will not need to travel very far. Legal abortions can only be obtained in a hospital or licensed clinics because of the risks of the procedure. Medical staff in hospitals and clinics are there to support the woman, whatever her choice. They understand the difficulty of making that decision and are there to help.
The first step in getting an abortion is to talk to your doctor or by getting an appointment at an abortion clinic. The attendant physician will talk to you about your mental health, physical health, medical history, reasons for wanting an abortion, and how you might respond to it. The pregnant woman is physically examined and a team of doctors will discuss the case individually to assess the legality and appropriateness of an abortion. The legal conditions for getting an abortion are very clearly stated and the doctors will try to avoid an abortion if they can.
Pregnant women who seek abortion are always offered counselling. The prospect of having a baby is terrifying to many (probably most) people, and avoiding the lifetime of responsibility that comes with having a baby seems sensible to women who are struggling. With appropriate counselling, many women choose to keep their baby and look after them, or give them up for adoption. If the woman decides to proceed with an abortion from rape, counselling is offered to help them through what is a universally upsetting process. Supporting women through the process is seen as vital to keeping her healthy and safe.
When the woman has decided to get an abortion after the consultation and counselling, an appointment will be made for the woman to attend the clinic and get an abortion. Most abortions are chemically induced with a dose of hormones that cause the body to reject the foetus and miscarry. Alternatively, there are surgical options, in which the pregnancy can be extracted with suction (vacuum aspiration) or with forceps.
Vacuum aspiration is used up to 14 weeks with a local anaesthetic. This has a quick recovery time and a reduced risk of complications. At 15 weeks, sedation is necessary.
After 15 weeks and before 24 weeks, a general anaesthetic is used to put the woman under for the surgical removal of the pregnancy with forceps. This has a longer preparation and recovery time than chemical or vacuum aspiration.
Once the pregnancy has been terminated, the body is in a delicate state. Most women feel some vaginal pain and experience bleeding. This usually goes away in under two weeks.
Continual monitoring of symptoms is essential to keeping the woman safe. In around 1 in 10 cases of abortion there is an infection of the cervix or womb. This is usually treatable with antibiotics and can be spotted by smelly vaginal discharge, pain that cannot be managed with over the counter painkillers, excessive bleeding, fever, feeling unwell, or lumps in the bloody discharge.
After an abortion, the body experiences wide hormonal swings as it readjusts itself. This is usually manageable but can result in severe mood swings. If a woman has experienced conditions like bipolar disorders or depression, she may be at risk of depression and mood swings.
An abortion is a traumatic event. Many women feel regret and sadness after having an abortion. The counselling offered to women in the UK is effective at helping women (and their partners) through this time.
Discussing an abortion with friends and family is a good way of getting the support for this difficult procedure. While many people do not fundamentally agree with abortion, most people are supportive of the rights of a woman to decide what happens in her own body. In the past, stigma and shame stopped women from getting support during this process and increased the risks as a result.
Abortions are offered for free in the UK and in some other countries. Although the vast majority of abortions are straightforward procedures, occasionally there may be complications. If the abortion has gone wrong somehow and you are asking what is medical negligence and is it the reason for my botched abortion you should get advice from a medical negligence solicitor.
In many countries the only option is to obtain an illegal abortion. This could involve unsafe surgery or taking drugs that are of uncertain quality or quantity. This puts the pregnant woman at substantial risks. Because of the risk of prosecution in many countries, many women do not go to hospital with their symptoms and can suffer ill health, loss of fertility, or even death as a result.
Some women do not meet the criteria for a legal abortion in the UK and seek illegal abortions. This is dangerous because it not only risks prosecution for the destruction of a child (maximum sentence: life in prison) but has the same risks as women in prohibitive countries experience. If anything goes wrong you won’t be able to take legal action whereas if medical negligence is committed in a legal abortion you could claim compensation.
If you have had an abortion and are concerned about your symptoms, you should contact the clinic or hospital you got the abortion from immediately.