Women “should have pre-abortion counseling
Therapy is not routinely available for patients about to undergo an abortion
on the NHS. The Department of Health says there is “little or no evidence”
that counseling is effective in preventing mental health problems.
But the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) says
that pre-abortion counseling can reduce the risk of trauma after the
operation, and that women should have the right to choose therapy before they
have a termination.
BACP says that, leaving aside the moral debate, an abortion is unlike other
surgical procedures – the psychological issues involved are multiple and
profound. But because the legal consensus in the UK has ruled that safe
medical abortion ought to be available, in some cases it has come to be
regarded as a “routine” procedure. This is a “serious mistake”, says
A woman with an unwanted or accidental pregnancy has to consider the
“immense consequences” of any choice she makes, says BACP. Pre-abortion counseling
allows women and their partners the opportunity to talk about how they think
the termination will affect their lives and relationship.
In addition, abortion can carry many complex emotional responses that are
often paradoxical, for example, hope and despair or relief and bereavement.
Many women who choose abortion still “mourn” the lost possibilities of the
life that will not be, says BACP.
Counselor Pat Seber says, “Because abortion is not something that most women
do on a regular basis but usually only once, they have no yardstick with which
to measure their reactions. They don’t know how they will feel, they can
only guess.” She said if they get it wrong, these women often develop severe
depression, anxiety and punitive behavior both towards themselves and others.
“Often women say ‘if only I could talk to someone who has had it done’.
They want to know what they may feel both physically and emotionally,” she
BACP believes that anyone who chooses to have an abortion should also be able
to decide whether to have counseling to help cope with the emotional
consequences. “It is a basic component of a woman’s right to choose,”
says the association.
A patient who had an abortion is suing the NHS because she was not warned of
the psychological complications that could follow the operation.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said guidelines from the Royal
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggest that only a small minority
of women experience any long term, adverse psychological problems after
abortion. Early distress, although common, is usually a continuation of
symptoms present before the abortion. Referral for further counseling should
be available for the small minority of women who experience long-term post
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