An influential doctors’ organisation has recommended that counselling should not be compulsory for people seeking abortions.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has unveiled a revised edition of its guidance for healthcare professionals providing abortion treatment. In a Question and Answer document accompanying the publication the RCOG states:
“Evidence shows that for women requesting an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy, the majority would have made up their minds to undergo the procedure and do not require further counselling.
“Once a woman has decided to proceed with an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy, it should occur without unnecessary delay. An extra counselling session should not be mandatory after she has had her initial assessment and given her consent.”
The new guidelines recognise and indeed emphasise that for some people, counselling is both necessary and welcome. A raft of other eminently sensible suggestions are also included, such as: offering patients screening for STIs; improving providers’ awareness of mental health issues among patients; providing a 24-hour phone line for post-abortion questions and concerns; and identifying factors which make patients particularly vulnerable, such as intimate partner violence, or child protection needs.
In addition, RCOG said, the abortion pill (mifepristone) should be made available for home use, rather than being administered exclusively by medical staff in clinics, as is now the case.
Abortion Rights commented: “We welcome the RCOG’s new guidance on abortion care. It backs up what pro-choice groups have always said about the procedure: it is very safe, with a low risk of complications and no link to increased mental health problems.
“On abortion counselling, the College’s guidelines fatally undermine the arguments of Nadine Dorries and other anti-choice MPs. The RCOG is clear that counselling must remain optional, it must be evidence-based, accurate and unbiased and must not be used to cause delay to treatment. We wholeheartedly support their recommendations”.
Julie Bentley, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, commented: “We are pleased to see that [the revised guidelines] confirm the evidence that abortion is not a direct cause of poor mental health and that there isn’t a link between abortion and breast cancer.
“We also welcome the recommendation that women can complete the second stage of medical abortion at home if they choose and it’s safe to do so.”
Abortion Rights is fully in agreement with RCOG’s new guidelines, and we are pleased to see such a well-regarded body taking a balanced, rounded and compassionate view on abortion care. As the Department of Health prepares to launch a consultation on pre-abortion counselling, we hope Ministers will look closely at the framework proposed by RCOG.