An abortion is the medical process of ending a pregnancy which involves either medication or a small surgical procedure. There are many reasons why someone may want to end their pregnancy, and in Great Britain, the law allows women to do so at up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
In order to obtain an abortion, two doctors need to agree it would cause the mother less damage physically or mentally to terminate the pregnancy.
For some people, this experience is a difficult one and they may benefit from speaking to a counsellor. On this page, 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.
On this page
Deciding to get an abortion
In some cases, women 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 British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes UK. 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 the ultimate 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.
Your next steps
Once you have come to the decision that you would like 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 clinic or contraception clinic. You can also contact an independent abortion provider directly.
Abortion is usually free on the NHS and you shouldn’t have to wait more than two weeks from your initial appointment to have the procedure.
Abortions can be carried out up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, however, they can be carried out after this time in some circumstances, such as if the mother’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, anaemia and to check your blood type.
You may be asked about your reasons for the abortion to ensure you’re certain with 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 for). There are two options and, where possible, you should be given the choice.
1. Medical abortion (this is when you take medication to induce a miscarriage)
2. Surgical abortion (this is when a minor surgical procedure is used, you will normally be able to go home soon after)
You will be asked to sign a consent form and set a date for your abortion. 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 if you have experienced them before, you may experience further problems.
In the majority of cases, women 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 compassion, 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.
What our experts say
- Men's experiences of abortion
Adam Matthew Day BSc (Hons) MBACP29th March, 2018
- Why do women struggle to talk about abortion?
Agatha Penney, M.Phil, MBACP, Self-Love Clinic Ltd, Therapy & Coaching23rd March, 2018
- Pre-abortion counselling: the difficulty of decisions
David Borrill, Dip.Couns, Adv Dip (CBT), Registered MBACP29th December, 2017
- Miscarriage: The ‘invisible grief’
Kathryn Cutting Adv.Dip.Couns. MBPS MBACP HPCreg.21st June, 2011
- Abortion/Termination: Concerns & Uncertainties
Mishelle Stewart Master of Arts Counselling & Psychotherapy,17th May, 2007
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