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Abortion Safer Than Childbirth, British Doctors' Group Wants Women to Know

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LONDON -- It looks like the U.S. isn't the only place where the abortion wars are heating up. According to new medical guidelines being proposed in the U.K., all pregnant women should be told that having a baby is more dangerous than having an abortion.

The guidance was written by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and is intended for all doctors, nurses and women's health professionals advising women who contemplate terminating a pregnancy. The recommendations come in two parts, each of which represents a fairly radical departure from previous guidelines -- and each of which is proving controversial.

The first recommendation, under the heading "what women need to know," instructs health professionals that women "should be advised that abortion is generally safer than continuing a pregnancy to term."

Current guidance simply tells doctors and nurses that they should "be equipped" to provide accurate information about the relative dangers of the two outcomes. Now, for the first time, the RCOM is explicitly invoking comparisons between the relative "costs" of termination vs. childbirth.

The second recommendation is even more of a departure. Until now, the RCOG has advised medical practitioners to tell women that while rates of psychiatric illness and self-harm in women are higher among those who had an abortion, there is no evidence that termination itself was likely to trigger psychological problems.

The new proposal simply says that anyone deciding whether to have an abortion must be told that most women do not suffer any psychological harm.

These recommendations are only in draft form, but they have already sparked the ire of anti-abortion groups. Some critics have taken aim at the science behind the recommendations, noting that many complications caused by abortions are recorded in emergency room statistics and elsewhere, and are thus missing from the official count.

They further point out that the study vastly underplays, if not ignores, the long-term psychological effects of abortion. Patricia Casey, a consultant psychiatrist and fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told the Sunday Telegraph: "The message this sends out is very worrying. There are more than 30 studies showing an association between psychological trauma and abortion."
Others are more incensed by what they see as the over-politicization of the abortion issue by this august medical body. Josephine Quintavalle of the Pro-Life Alliance accused the RCOM of "attempting to force an absurdly liberal agenda on women when they are at their most vulnerable." She and others note that the report's 18 authors include representatives from two of the country's largest abortion clinics, but not one psychiatrist.

"Asking this group to comment objectively and honestly about the physical and psychological consequences of abortion for women is like asking Philip Morris or British American Tobacco to review the health consequences of smoking or McDonald's to outline the adverse effects of fast food consumption," said Dr. Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship.
In some ways, this debate is similar to one raging in the United States following the publication last month of a study in a prestigious American medical journal showing that having an abortion may be less damaging to a woman's mental health than having a baby.

But there are important differences. Sure, predictable conflicts arose when the first ad ever to offer advice on abortion services was screened on British television last autumn. Or when Ultrasound Jesus miraculously found his way onto billboards here just before Christmas. But as with so many issues, the abortion debate is way more measured in Britain than it is in the United States. Take, for example, an op-ed in the conservative Daily Mail by columnist Melanie Philips. Philips is dismayed by the RCOM's new guidance, arguing that "to suggest that having a baby is a dangerous procedure is a disreputable piece of scaremongering." She questions how it is that "doctors can have lost their ethical compass so badly that they dehumanize life in this way, and dress up as 'treatment' the manipulation of fragile patients."

But Philips also contends that abortion "is -- or should be seen as -- at best, a necessary evil." In her view, "what started as a humane response -- in this case to the dangerous back-street butchery of desperate women -- has turned into something quite different."

In short, Phillips worries about the causes of the U.K. having the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe. But she doesn't want to criminalize abortion. She wants, like many of us, to see it as safe, legal and rare.

Contrast this to the States, where we've had the following developments in the last month alone:

- A bill in Arizona that bans abortion based on the sex or race of the fetus, and would impose penalties on abortion providers who knowingly perform such abortions.

- A bill in the Texas senate that would require women to see a sonogram of the fetus before having an abortion.

- A bill in Georgia that would require proof that a miscarriage occurred naturally.

- A pro-choice extremist was arrested by the FBI for threats to pro-life activists.

Sorting out the costs -- physical and psychological, long-term and short-term -- of ending a pregnancy is incredibly difficult and challenging. I really do hope scientists and medical experts come to their conclusions in a fair and balanced way that enables women to make informed decisions about all aspects of their health.

But I have to say that in light of the political climate around abortion in America right now, I'd much rather have that debate over here than over there.

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Abortion Safer Than Childbirth, British Doctors' Group Wants Women to Know

Ummm....not for the baby.

March 02 2011 at 9:02 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Anti-abortionists ("pro-lifers") in the US would really go crazy if the AMA made such a statement, whether it's factual or not. However, if it would help to alleviate any fears that women might have about terminating an unwanted pregnancy, it might not be a bad idea. A century ago, it was not uncommon for women to die in childbirth, and that is undoubtedly still true in many parts of the world.

March 01 2011 at 6:45 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Safer for who?

March 01 2011 at 4:43 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to drdave415's comment

Safer for the most important person in this equation, the mother! By saving her life she will be able to raise any children that she may already have and many times when the procedure is done due to medical circumstances she can bear another child later. Mature a little.

March 02 2011 at 10:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had a theraputic abortion, there was great pastoral and medical care. I understood the severity of how ill I was but the live or die mode came out in me. Pastoral/ medical follow up-Great!! I've no regrets, feeling of shame but once in a while my husband and I wonder what "our twins" who would've been 18 this yr would've been. NO PREGNANCY guarentees a baby. Until that cord is cut and it's breathing on it's own, it's a fetus. Having had such difficult pregnancies, I never refered to my pregnancies as "the baby" because I also had previously 3 miscarriages. We now have a daughter, 20. badgering women who choose to have an AB is also wrong. Lunatics yelling at you on the sidelines must be a horror, I was in a hospital so I didn't have to deal with the sidewalk pastors.

March 01 2011 at 3:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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