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Brook position statement - abortion

Brook supports women’s right to choose legal and safe abortion and believes abortion should be available to women in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Brook’s position on abortion

Brook is a founding member of the Voice for Choice campaign which is committed to ensuring that:

  • Abortion be available solely at the request of the pregnant woman within existing legal time limits
  • Abortion services are subject to the same statutory regulations as other medical services
  • Suitably trained nurse practitioners be allowed to provide early medical and surgical abortions, in both the NHS and non-NHS sector
  • The law in Northern Ireland be brought into line with the rest of the UK
  • Current legal abortion rights are defended

Brook values every young woman’s right to make informed choices about legal, safe and confidential abortion. The ability to choose legal abortion allows young women to make their own decisions about their futures, including when and whether to have children, and prevents risk to their physical and emotional health. 

Brook believes it is time to end the discrimination and give women in Northern Ireland the same legal rights as women in the rest of the United Kingdom to access abortion services.

Denying young women access to abortion has adverse effects on them and their children. Research cited by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has shown that women who are denied abortions are more likely to self harm and to show on-going resentment lasting for years, and their children are more likely to have increased emotional, psychological and social problems.(1)  

Brook believes that women should have access to impartial information and support in order to make an informed choice about their pregnancy.  

Brook emphasises the importance of a high standard of care for young women requesting an abortion, including offering counselling and providing contraception for post-abortion use. Brook’s experience suggests that the provision of counselling as part of the referral process and the offer of post-abortion counselling supports and empowers women, significantly improving their experience.

There is no reliable evidence that abortion causes psychological damage to women. Anti-choice groups have attempted to show higher rates of psychiatric illness among women who have had an abortion compared to women who give birth. An analysis of the research evidence by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America found that responses to abortion are generally positive except where pre-abortion emotional problems exist or when a wanted pregnancy is terminated.(2) A systematic review of the mental health impact of induced abortion developed for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges concluded that mental health outcomes are likely to be the same, whether women with unwanted pregnancies opt for an abortion or birth, and that woman with mental health problems prior to abortion or birth, are associated with increased mental health problems after the abortion or birth.(3)

Brook’s experience suggests that encountering judgemental attitudes from referring professional or clinical staff can have adverse effects on women. Anecdotal evidence from Brook’s counsellors suggests that only a small proportion of women return for counselling after an abortion, even though this is routinely offered, supporting the evidence that most women do not suffer adverse psychological affects from induced abortion. 

Key issues

Northern Ireland

The 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland and abortion is only legal in very limited and exceptional circumstances. As a result women in Northern Ireland have been denied the same rights as other women in the United Kingdom and suffer discrimination in contravention of their human and civil rights – see for example Amnesty’s report on access to abortion in Northern Ireland.(4)  

Abortion on request

Anecdotal reports from Ask Brook (Brook’s national information service) show that the current need for two doctors’ signatures can cause unnecessary delays in obtaining an abortion.  

Allowing women to make a decision about abortion in the same way as any other medical treatment, providing a doctor agreed that the pregnancy had not exceeded 24 weeks, would reduce the delays and obstructions which result in the trauma of being too late for an abortion or having abortions later than necessary.

Late abortions 

1% of terminations occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy in England and Wales. Reducing the time limit would affect some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged women and may result in women being rushed into decisions about abortions or forced to continue a pregnancy against their will. 

Women need access to later abortions for good reasons. Some women may experience delays in being referred or may experience a diagnosis of foetal abnormality late in their pregnancy. Some may not realise they are pregnant, either through poor sex education, or because their periods are irregular. Others may be put off visiting a service because of fears around confidentiality. Young women in particular are more likely to present later in their pregnancy for these reasons. 

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has concluded that there is no evidence on the grounds of foetal viability to reduce the upper time limit.(5) This was reinforced by the announcement of headline findings from the EPIcure 2 study which concluded that there had been no significant improvement in the survival of extremely preterm infants born below 24 weeks of gestation in the last ten years.(6)

Key figures

In 2014 (the latest year for which statistics are available):

  • There were 184,571 abortions in England and Wales and 11,475 in Scotland
  • 92% of abortions were carried out at under 13 weeks gestation in England and Wales and 95% were performed at under 14 weeks in Scotland; around 80% in both countries were carried out before 10 weeks
  • In England and Wales the under-16 abortion rate was 2.5 and the under-18 rate was 11.1 per 1,000 women in the age group, both lower than in 2013
  • In Scotland the abortion rate for 16-19s was 15.1 per 1,000, lower than the previous year

The role of Brook services

Brook services are in contact with over 117,000 young people annually in clinical settings, and our clinical staff see around 3,000 pregnant young women a year. Of those around 63% are recorded as requesting an abortion at their first contact with Brook. 

Brook services provide impartial information and support to young pregnant women and their partners, to help them make an informed choice about their options.  Services offer pregnancy options counselling to clients and their partners and post abortion counselling.

Brook is committed to providing high quality clinical care, education, information and post-abortion support to young women to encourage the use of effective contraception and reduce the likelihood of the need for repeat abortions.

Brook services can refer women for a termination of pregnancy funded by the NHS if that is her choice.

Brook aims to involve young men in decisions regarding pregnancy and contraception to improve the continuation of effective contraception and reduce repeat abortion.

References

  1. “Factsheet: The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion”. Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. January 2007.
  2. Ibid, January 2007
  3. “Induced abortion and mental health. A systematic review of the mental health impact of induced abortion, including their prevalence and associated factors.” Developed for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, 2011.
  4. “Northern Ireland: Barriers to accessing abortion services.” Amnesty International, 2015 
  5. “Scientific Developments Relating to the Abortion Act 1967, Twelfth Report of Session 2006-07”. House of Commons Science & Technology Committee. 
  6. Cited by BBC News website 11 April 2008 ‘Prem baby survival rates revealed’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7340288.stm

Publication date: December 2015