Assembly Draws Up Guidelines on Faster Abortion Services

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 27, 2007 | Go to article overview

Assembly Draws Up Guidelines on Faster Abortion Services


Byline: By Madeleine Brindley Western Mail

New guidelines have been drawn up to ensure that women in Wales get faster access to abortion services. The proposals, by the Welsh Assembly Government, aim to reduce complications and "negative psychological outcomes" associated with terminations.

As part of the new quality requirements for sexual health services, women in Wales would be assessed and have access to an abortion within a week of seeking such help.

The maximum waiting time would be three weeks.

The consultation document also proposes that all women should have telephone access to abortion services, pre and post-abortion counselling services and access to tests for sexually transmitted infections.

The proposals come amid concern that women seeking a termination have to wait too long to be referred to services.

In some cases these delays mean women undergo a later - and potentially more traumatic - abortion.

Figures suggest that 61% of the 7,764 abortions performed on Welsh women in 2005 were carried out before 10 weeks' gestation - so called first trimester abortions.

And the majority of these - 87% - were carried out by the NHS or an NHS agency. The proposed new quality standards state that a minimum of 90% of abortions should be NHS-funded.

The proposals come amid ongoing debate about the current state of abortion law in the UK - MPs are already committed to reviewing the scientific and medical evidence about the 24-week upper time limit.

The British Medical Association voted, at its annual representatives' meeting in June, in favour of removing the requirement for two doctors to consent to an abortion in the first trimester - up to 13 weeks.

If such a stance were adopted in law, it would mean the procedure would be available on the basis of 'informed consent', putting abortion on the same footing as any other surgical procedure.

The BMA's Medical Ethics Committee has argued that it is not necessary for two doctors to consent to an abortion because the risk of carrying a baby to full term is now considered greater than the risk associated with an early medical abortion.

Dr Tony Calland, chair of the committee and Welsh Council, said, "If we accept that then why do you need to have two doctors to sign a termination form?"

He said removing the lengthy process of getting two doctors to approve an abortion could cut as much as five weeks off the time women have to wait to have a termination.

The Welsh Assembly Government's quality standards for abortion do not make any proposals or recommendations for changes to the Abortion Act or the requirement of two doctors to authorise termination.

But they are designed to ensure "services are organised to enable abortions to be provided as early in gestation as possible. …

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