12-week medical abortion limit 'causing confusion', say doctors

Many women encounter “a huge amount of confusion” about what constitutes 12 weeks’ pregnancy when accessing a medical abortion.

This can lead to some fraught situations since the new law came into effect in January, warn doctors.

Medical director of the Irish Family Planning Association Dr Caitriona Henchion said under the new abortion law a termination can only be carried out where a doctor is of the reasonable opinion that the woman is not beyond 12 weeks.

“The pregnancy tests that a lot of women get in the pharmacy actually give them an estimate of date, but they are counting from conception. The legislation is based on counting from last period, which means you immediately have to add two weeks on to what you thought,” Dr Henchion told the ‘Medical Independent’.

“From our point of view, when we get someone who thought they were eight, nine weeks, and turns out to be 11-plus, it becomes a panic to try to get them an appointment on time. It really does; there is no other way I can describe that.

“And some of the hospitals are really, really helpful, but at the same time they only have a certain number of appointments and it is only certain days of the week.

“They may be full and they may not be able to take any more and they may not have any theatre slots available and you get into this very, very fraught situation of trying to find someone a place to go.”

Dr Henchion also said some women are upset to discover there is a mandatory waiting period of at least three days between getting the abortion certified and having the termination. Others are fully aware of the timeline.

Meanwhile, the Irish College of General Practitioners said it will not hold an extraordinary general meeting on the law as requested by some members but will discuss motions at its annual meeting.

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