Dealing with an Unwanted pregnancy

‘I didn’t mean to get pregnant…’ If this is your problem, you are going to need help and the sooner you get help, the better. Many women do not know what to do or are shy about approaching anyone. If you are young and single, start off by talking to your parents. If you feel you cannot do this, share your problem with someone, a best friend, a counsellor or social worker, and so build up confidence to see your GP.

Firstly, and most important, you must find out if you are pregnant. At present, tests are not at all reliable until 2 weeks after a missed period, or if you have a monthly cycle, 6 weeks after your last period. Recent developments in pregnancy testing may soon make earlier diagnosis possible. Normally you should go to your GP for a pregnancy test, but if at this stage you do not want to consult your GP, you can get a test done at any Family Planning Clinic or by one of the charitable abortion agencies, who may charge a small fee. You will see pregnancy testing services advertised in magazines; these are usually run by commercial firms whose tests may not be as reliable as those done by your GP or Family Planning Clinic, but use them if you wish. Do not rely on ‘home testing’ kits. If the result of the test is positive, then you are pregnant. If the test is negative two weeks after a missed period there is still a possibility that you may be pregnant, as the test is not completely reliable at this stage. Have it repeated after another week if a normal period has not arrived by then.

If you discover that you are indeed pregnant, then the next step is to decide what you should do. For many women this is by no means easy. The choice will lie between continuing with the pregnancy or asking for a termination of pregnancy (abortion). Many personal, religious and social factors will come into this decision and you may well need professional help to make up your mind. Talk to your close relatives and see your GP. You could also approach a counsellor or social worker for guidance. If you are thinking of seeking an abortion do not delay before seeing your GP, as time is all- important. An abortion is much safer if done early in the pregnancy.

If you are single and would like some more help or support through your pregnancy, see a social worker or get in touch with one of the charities offering such help, e.g. the ‘Life’ group. Your local Social Services Offices can put you in touch with these charities. You may decide that you wish to have the baby adopted. Adoption is usually arranged by the local Social Services department. Talk to your GP about it, and he will tell you what to do.

A word of warning: do not think that drinking gin, having hot baths or jumping from heights will bring on a miscarriage. These methods and other old wives remedies are dangerous and won’t work. Many women have died from illegal attempts to procure abortions in the past. There is no home treatment; you need a doctor.

What the Doctor Will Do

He may perform a vaginal examination to check on the size and duration of the pregnancy. If you wish to have an abortion he will discuss this with you. Abortion is only available to patients under certain specified conditions laid down in the 1967 Abortion Act. Two doctors must see the patient and both must agree that in their opinion the conditions in the Act are applicable. Doctors may vary in their opinion regarding any particular patient – as they often differ in opinion about many other things. If your GP agrees that your case does come within the terms of the Act he may then refer you to an NHS hospital for a consultant to see you. This doctor will usually be the second doctor to give his opinion and so fulfil the terms of the Abortion Act. He can arrange for you to have an Abortion in an NHS hospital, and there will be no charge. If your area is not well supplied with NHS facilities for abortion, your GP may suggest that you see a gynaecologist privately or go to a registered charitable agency. In both instances a fee will be payable for the operation. The charitable agencies usually charge less than a gynaecologist performing an abortion privately.

If your GP feels that your case does not fulfil the conditions of the Abortion Act, he will tell you that this is his opinion. It is still open to you to ask him to refer you for a second opinion, but he is entitled to decline to do so under his terms of service with the NHS. You may then look for help elsewhere. We would advise you to approach a registered charitable agency directly (e.g. BPAS) or see one of the doctors at a local Family Planning Clinic who may be able to help you. But do not delay as the sooner arrangements are made, the better.

The operation itself is usually done under a general anaesthetic and you should expect to stay in hospital overnight. If the pregnancy is of greater than 12 weeks’ duration it will probably be necessary to use other methods; often special drugs are injected into the womb to bring on a type of ‘labour’. This is more painful and you may expect to stay in hospital for a couple of days.

After a termination it is more important than ever to use an efficient method of contraception: see your doctor or go to a Family Planning Clinic.