If you find yourself pregnant and do not wish to keep the baby, you can seek an abortion to bring the pregnancy to an end. By law in England, Scotland and Wales, this is usually up to 24 weeks, although later in certain exceptional circumstances. It can be a difficult time, and you may feel confused about the right decision for you. Turning to those that know and love you – friends, family, your partner – can help, but if this is difficult, your GP can provide a good listening ear, and abortion clinics have counselling services to discuss options with you. An abortion carries less risk the earlier it is carried out. Earlier discussions also allow for more time to think about the right option for you.
You can refer yourself to an abortion clinic, or you can speak to your GP or a sexual health or family planning clinic, and they can refer you. Abortions are carried out in licensed clinics or NHS hospitals, by a registered medical practitioner, and are free of charge to UK residents.
Medical information is always kept confidential, apart from those who are involved in your care in the clinic and they may let your GP know. It is only breached on the rare occasion that there may be a serious risk to your health or that of others. Those aged between 13 and 16 can access services and – if the registered practitioner feels they can understand and weigh up the information to reach a decision – they can go ahead. While a young person will be encouraged to tell their parents, they will not be forced to and medical confidentiality will be respected. The only occasions this is broken is if your safety is considered at risk, such as in sexual abuse.
An abortion is brought about by either medication or a surgical procedure – your practitioner and you will discuss the best option based on length of pregnancy, other medical conditions and your own preference. Medication may be given at home or in the clinic, depending on how many weeks pregnant you are. A surgical procedure is carried out in a clinic or hospital, and this may be under local anaesthetic (your are awake) or general anaesthetic (you are kept asleep).
Most women recover quickly after an abortion. You are likely to experience some abdominal pain and bleeding afterwards. And you are likely to feel some turbulent emotions, too. Abortions are considered fairly safe procedures, but any procedure can carry risk. Whilst rare, you may have excessive or prolonged bleeding, a womb (uterus) infection, damage to the womb or entrance to the womb (cervix), some of the tissue of pregnancy left, or – with an abortion by medicine – the pregnancy may persist. The clinic will talk you through these risks and what to look out for, and be on hand during and after any procedure to advise you.