Changing the rules on abortion: Attacking women or saving lives?

Proposed changes to abortion laws being debated in Parliament today have created a storm over the counselling women receive. Here we ask if it should be independent

Anti-abortionists want to take away our choices

Mum-of-four Cheryl Howlett, 43, from Peterborough, had two abortions – one in June 2008 and March 2010 – despite being sterilised

The suggestion that I may not have thought long and hard enough about each decision to terminate is really insulting. If you find yourself in the position of considering abortion, you think of nothing else day and night.

Ironically I thought I was anti-abortion, but when you suddenly find yourself in those shoes you are hugely relieved and privileged to have the choice.

When I discovered I was pregnant after a failed sterilisation I went to bits. I knew immediately I could not keep the baby. I felt my own health was at risk after four C-sections already and valued the life I already had with my living children over and above the life inside me.

Nonetheless, it was still a hugely traumatic, devastating experience but seeing independent advisors would just have drawn out the process, causing unnecessary waiting, more hurt and confusion.

These proposals are really about reducing the number of abortions and trying to persuade women not to go ahead with them.

I was very happy with the advice I received at the clinic. I never saw a counsellor but people asked if I was sure and if I wanted more time – that was enough for me. Nobody tried to talk me into it or out of it – they just accepted my decision, which is the right way to do it.

If this goes ahead, younger, more vulnerable women might be persuaded to keep a baby that deep down they know they don’t want. Who will be there then to pick up the pieces?

Independent counselling will just lead to later, riskier abortions

I’m all in favour of women having as much information and advice as possible to help her make such a momentous choice as abortion.

However, I’m unimpressed by the arguments made by the MPs who are accusing the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes clinics of having a commercial vested interest in carrying out abortions.

I’ve rarely heard anything so absurd. I have personal experience of the Marie Stopes Clinics and I know counselling and advice are integral to what they do.

I find it offensive to liken these services to a factory production line, which denies women the right to independent professional counselling.

While they are sad, I’m not swayed by the sob stories of women who wished they had not had an abortion. Practically every woman who’s had an abortion has regrets whether counselled or not.

My worry is if a woman were to seek out independent counselling it would be highly difficult to avoid delaying abortions until later in the pregnancy. This makes the medical procedure more difficult and even more hazardous.

The MPs claim counselling would prevent 60,000 abortions – this sounds to me like the thin edge of an anti-abortionist wedge.

In an ideal world, every woman facing the decision of having an abortion should have the most humane treatment in the most humane conditions.

If I’d had independent counselling my child might be here today

Mum-of-one Shelly Jarvis, 27, from Bristol, had an abortion 10 years ago

To terminate a baby is the biggest decision a women can ever make so yes, all women should see independent counsellors so they can be sure they are given all the information and the chance to change their mind.

When I fell pregnant as a teenager I had it confirmed at a walk-in centre and they advised me to tell my parents but Mum had guessed.

She came to the clinic with me and it was assumed I would have an abortion. We went to see the counsellor together but mum did all the talking, which was mainly about the actual procedure rather than the options.

Nobody ever really told me that keeping the baby was a real possibility but I was too young and insecure to argue.

At the clinic on the day of the operation, I was crying so much someone asked if I was sure. But I felt it was too late by then to say anything. I’d already caused enough trouble.

The pain is less raw now but I still feel a constant sadness and regret, especially at that time of year.

I’ve had depression on and off since and the birth of my daughter last year made it worse not better.

I will never get over the guilt and regret I feel at aborting a perfect baby. I hope the changes are made and it will spare any woman suffering a life of guilt and regret.

Independent counselling with no outside forces might have given me the courage and opportunity to speak up about what I really wanted.

Abortion clinics cannot give truly independent advice

Philippa Taylor, head of public policy for the Christian Medical Fellowship

I have been both surprised and shocked at the depth of opposition to what seems to me a modest proposal that has women’s rights at its heart.

The aim of the amendment is simple – to ensure any woman considering having an abortion is offered independent counselling from a provider who has no vested financial interest in the outcome of her decision.

Currently, where counselling is available, it is all too often given by the same private providers who carry out abortions and gain financially from them. This is an obvious conflict of interest.

I have interviewed women who had abortions between five and 35 years ago and the clear message from them was that they felt they had not had full information, adequate counselling and/or advice on options beforehand.

Despite hysterical fearmongering, there would be no compulsory counselling and no prevention of abortions for those who want them, only the opportunity for women to have counselling that is no longer tied up with the abortion industry.

Last week The British Journal of Psychiatry published findings showing women who had an abortion face nearly double the risk of mental health problems as women who delivered a pregnancy. It also found 10% of all mental health problems are directly linked to abortion.

I’m not suggesting that all women suffer mental health problems post-abortion but women should be told of the risks they might face.