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Reasons why women have late abortions

May 3rd, 2007

Dr Petra

New research from the Centre for Sexual Health Research (CSHR) at the University of Southampton and the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent reveals why women in England and Wales have ‘late abortions’. These are terminations completed in the second trimester when women are between 13 and 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

Researchers spoke to 883 women who had obtained second-trimester terminations and found
* There was no single reason why women have abortions in the second trimester: respondents reported a whole variety of reasons that explained their delay in seeking and obtaining an abortion.
* A major reason for delay in the pathway to abortion was women not realising that they were pregnant.
* Much of the delay occurs prior to women requesting an abortion: half the women questioned were more than 13 weeks pregnant by the time they requested an abortion.
* Women’s concerns about what is involved in having the abortion are also important in creating delay.
* Various aspects of relationships with their partners and/or parents played a role in delays in women’s decision-making about whether to have an abortion.
* 41% of women in the study said that they were unsure about having an abortion and therefore it took some time to make up their minds. Over half the teenage women said they were worried how their parents would react, while 23% overall said that their relationship with their partners had broken down or changed.
* After requesting an abortion, delays were partly service-related, to do with waiting for appointments, and partly ‘women-related’, to do with missing or cancelling appointments. Service-related reasons for delay at this stage included delays in getting further appointments and confusion amongst doctors first approached about where a procedure should take place.

You can obtain an executive summary of the research here.

In a press release for the study Dr Ellie Lee, senior lecturer in social policy at the University of Kent, and report co-author, comments: ‘There has been a great deal of media and public debate recently about second-trimester abortions, especially those performed at 20 weeks and over. What has been lacking in this discussion so far is an understanding of why women have abortions at this stage. This means few have sought to properly address how women can be helped to terminate pregnancies earlier, and how policy makers and service providers might best think about the relevant issues for those women who seek second-trimester abortion. Debate about the ”ethics” of abortion has its place, but we hope this research can help to generate discussion about these more practical concerns and issues. If as much attention were paid by policy makers to second trimester abortion as has been given to early abortion, significant gains for women could be made.’

Ann Furedi, chief executive of British Pregnancy Advisory Service is also reported as saying ‘This valuable research gives service providers, policy makers and NHS commissioners the evidence needed to ensure women receive the necessary support and services as early as possible, and as late as necessary…With increased NHS investment in abortion care, more UK women are able to get a funded abortion at an earlier stage than would have been available, say, five years ago. ”Later” abortions have always made up a small percentage of procedures within the overall provision of abortion, but these women need specialist care. As the study confirms, they tend to be already vulnerable and in difficult personal circumstances. Our patients taking part in the research were pleased to be able to make their voices more widely heard about the reality of their situation.’

For more information about termination you can visit Marie Stopes and what it involves. Patient Plus provides an overview of terminations in the UK, and NHS direct also answers commonly asked questions about termination of pregnancy. You can get advice about contraception from your GP, local community reproductive health service, or family planning clinic. And if you are pregnant and decide to continue with the pregnancy your GP and midwife can give you advice and support.

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