There are many reasons why someone may decide to end their pregnancy and, in Great Britain, the law allows people to do so up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. This experience can be a difficult one, and some people may benefit from speaking to a counsellor. Here, we’ll look at deciding to get an abortion, what to expect before and after the procedure, and how counselling could provide added support for those who need it.
Deciding to end a pregnancy
In some cases, people may feel certain about their decision to end a pregnancy. Others, however, may find it more difficult. If you’re considering an abortion, it’s important to remember that the decision is yours.
There is support and information available if you’re finding it hard to decide. You can speak to your doctor and organisations such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and MSI Reproductive Choices. You can also choose to speak to a counsellor who has experience in this field. You may want to speak to friends or family members, but remember that you don’t have to speak to anyone you don’t want to and that, ultimately, the decision is yours alone.
If you would prefer to keep the information private, your doctor will keep your details confidential (information won’t go on your medical record). If you are under the age of 16, you will be encouraged to tell a parent or trusted adult, however, your parents don’t usually need to be told.
In this video, person-centred counsellor Berny Sansome MBACP explains how counselling can support you through the termination of pregnancy.
Abortion or termination - what's the difference?
Sometimes healthcare professionals may refer to an abortion as a 'termination of pregnancy' or 'termination'. These words can be used interchangeably, and it's worth bearing in mind that some people have preferences for the language they use.
"What comes to mind for you when you hear the word ‘abortion’? Some people find it a very harsh and cruel word. However, some people view abortion as a ‘clinical procedure’ and, therefore, believe that it cannot be a term that is ‘sugar-coated’ to make it more palatable or ‘acceptable’.
"On the other hand, some people prefer the word ‘termination’ as it has kinder implications or perhaps sounds less severe. Perhaps it is easier to say “I had a termination” than “I had an abortion”. Either way, abortion or termination - it is the same thing."
Whatever language you prefer to use is completely personal to you.
Your next steps
Once you have come to the decision to end your pregnancy, there are several ways you can get an abortion. You can visit your doctor who will refer you to an abortion service (if a doctor has objections, they should refer you to another doctor who will help). You can visit your local family planning clinic, GUM (sexual health) clinic or contraception clinic. You can also contact an independent abortion provider directly.
Abortions can be carried out up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, however, they might be carried out after this time in some circumstances, such as if the carrier’s life is at risk. An ultrasound scan can help you determine how long you’ve been pregnant if you’re unsure.
Before the abortion
Before you have the abortion, you’ll be asked to attend an assessment appointment. This gives you the chance to talk things through before the procedure takes place. Here you may be asked to do a pregnancy test to ensure you are pregnant and/or given an ultrasound scan to check how long you’ve been pregnant for. You may also be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and anaemia and to check your blood type.
You may be asked about your reasons for the termination to ensure you’re certain about your decision. You should also be offered the chance to talk things through with a counsellor if you think this would be helpful.
You will be able to ask the doctor/nurse about the different methods available (these will depend on how long you’ve been pregnant). There are two options and, where possible, you should be given the choice.
- Medical abortion (this is when you take medication to induce a miscarriage).
- Surgical abortion (this is when a minor surgical procedure is used, you will normally be able to go home soon after).
You will be able to change your mind at any point up until the procedure starts.
After the abortion
After the procedure has taken place, you may want to take it easy for a few days. You may feel discomfort and have bleeding for a couple of weeks. In terms of your emotions, you may feel a mix and it’s important to know that there is no ‘right’ way to feel - we are all different and experience life through our own unique lens.
How you feel will depend on a number of factors, including the circumstances of your abortion and how comfortable you were with the decision. Having an abortion will not cause mental health problems in itself, though the emotional effects might trigger them.
In the majority of cases, those who have had an abortion will not experience long-lasting feelings of sadness or guilt - but if this is something you are experiencing, know that you’re not alone. Post-abortion counselling could offer support.
Counselling after an abortion provides a safe space to talk through the different emotions you may be feeling. Therapies like CBT can be helpful in coping with unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. It is often used for post-traumatic stress and can help you learn relaxation techniques, emotional regulation and coping strategies whilst you’re struggling.
If you are struggling to show yourself kindness, compassion-focused therapy is another technique that could be useful.
The decision to end a pregnancy is rarely easy, but there is help available. Life throws us many curve balls and sometimes we need a hand catching them, so never be afraid to reach out for support.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
Whilst there are no official rules and regulations in place that stipulate what level of training and experience an abortion counsellor needs, we do recommend that you check your therapist is experienced in the area for which you are seeking help.
Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation that represents counsellors dealing with abortion.
Overall, your counsellor should be in a position to go through all of your options with you without bias. Rather than give you advice, a good counsellor will offer support both as you make your decision, and after the procedure.
There is a wealth of useful information on choices, procedures and how to begin to make a decision. Always check the information is impartial and objective.
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