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Termination of Pregnancy

In the UK, early terminations of pregnancy are relatively common with almost 200 000 women undergoing this procedure every year.  This is mostly because the pregnancy is unplanned and unwanted.  The law still requires that 2 doctors should see the woman and agree that there are adequate indications for a termination and check that there is appropriate paperwork.  Procedures have to take place at a licensed clinic or hospital.  These early abortions can be undertaken either surgically, using a suction instrument or medically, using a combination of drugs without an operation.

Occasionally, pregnancies may be terminated later in the pregnancy because of serious abnormalities in the baby such as anencephaly or serious defects caused by Downs Syndrome.  These abnormalities are normally diagnosed after the 12 week nuchal scan or later, after the 20 week scan.  Many of these pregnancies will be planned and much wanted.  If the pregnancy is less than 16 weeks then terminations can usually be safely performed through the vagina under short general anaesthetic.  After that time a different process is needed. Labour needs to be induced with drugs to stimulate contractions.  Care is usually provided in a maternity unit with full support from doctors, midwives, nurses and anaesthetists as necessary.  There will be access to strong pain relief and an epidural is usually available if required.  The baby always dies during the process and there will be the opportunity to see the baby afterwards if requested.  Occasionally the procedure may need to be completed in an operating theatre.

Finding out that your baby may have serious abnormalities is one of the most distressing things that can happen to couples.  Decisions relating to terminations will be for most women, the most difficult thing they have ever faced in their lives.  The decision needs careful consideration by all parties concerned. You may need detailed scans and additional tests.  Sensitive and sympathetic care from doctors, midwives and counsellors is essential.

There are no right or wrong decisions in these situations.  Attitudes vary according to age, religion, culture and other important social factors.

Long-term follow up and support from family and friends and expert counsellors will be helpful to prevent psychological problems and help couples plan for the future.  If the termination has been performed for abnormalities which are hereditary, the couple will want to seek medical genetic advice regarding future pregnancies.


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