AS the debate rages on in the US and indeed around the world, perhaps we can take comfort that in Britain a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy still exists.
Since the 1967 law on abortion, an interruption can be performed in all cases for up to 24 weeks. This date is considered to be around the time of viability, i.e. when a fetus could survive on its own, outside the womb. With the advancement of medical techniques, babies survive after being born earlier than that. A termination can be made up to term, 40 weeks, in exceptional circumstances. More than 90% of redundancies take place before 13 weeks and less than 2% after 20 weeks.
Although a difficult topic to discuss, shrouded in secrecy, misunderstanding and stigma, abortions are not uncommon. Worldwide, one in four pregnancies ends in abortion.
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Human behavior does not change whether abortion is legalized or criminalized. In countries where it is legal, the abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 people, but where it is illegal or strictly regulated, the rate is still 34 per 1,000 people.
What changes is the result. Carried out by competent and trained people in an adapted and hygienic service, the risks are low. However, in a “clandestine clinic”, the results are often catastrophic.
A staggering 40% of women of reproductive age, mostly in developing countries, do not have access to proper pregnancy termination facilities. As a result, unsafe abortion practices have the dubious distinction of being the third leading cause of maternal death. It is estimated that there are 25 million unsafe abortions performed worldwide each year.
The decision to terminate a pregnancy is a very personal decision. A woman can self-refer for the procedure without having to contact her GP. It is a woman’s prerogative to make decisions about her own body, including her reproductive rights. After being seen by a practitioner in a clinic, the individual must be offered an intervention, whether medical or surgical, within five working days. The clinic will not automatically inform the GP unless the patient consents.
There are multiple arguments against termination or its severe restriction. These include being a sinner, that life begins at conception, and that the unborn child is capable of feeling pain.
Yet religion and medicine are rarely compatible, and although no practitioner has to consent to refer a woman for an abortion, he must refer her to another medical professional who can. This is now largely obsolete as you don’t need a GP to refer you. Not all women’s health specialists perform pregnancy terminations. There is the possibility of opting out.