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Abortion: To cut or to keep? With the UK Government talking about lowering the abortion cut-off time, Zoe Birdsall talks to students about the reality of such a life-changing decision A WOMAN in Ireland died recently after being refused an abortion in the pro-life country. The event has fuelled anger over government discussions to limit abortion access. The River talks to Kingston students about having a shorter time to decide yes or no to an abortion. Kelly, a bubbly third-year Kingston student was 13 weeks gone when she discovered she was pregnant. Having always had irregular periods she did not know she was expecting. She was 18-years-old. “It affected me emotionally and I was in a really bad way for a long time,” she says. “I didn't feel I had a choice. Not only would my family have not coped but I was too young. It was a year before I started university. It was just the wrong time.” Kelly is one of many women who have irregular periods. Had she not had other pregnancy symptoms (including morning sickness and back pains), it could have been longer until she knew she was pregnant. As Members of Parliament, including Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister David Cameron, discuss the issue of bringing forward the cut-off abortion deadline, what would happen to women like Kelly? Mr Hunt argued that on ethical and moral grounds the abortion limit, 24 weeks in the UK, should be halved to 12 weeks. The Prime Minister was quick to state that he did not back the proposal, but is keen to bring the limit down to 20 weeks, a month less than the current limit at which women can end their pregnancy. For some, like student Gemma, 21, the cut could have been a disaster: “I found out I was pregnant at nine weeks but was unable to have a termination until 12 weeks for medical reasons. It was an important decision for me to make which demanded a lot of support and time to consider my options. "I also had to go for a second scan and a pre-operation assessment which added an extra week on for me. I would have missed the legal

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Marie Stopes International has a 24-hour helpline called One Call It is manned by trained health professionals, including counsellors. Counselling is available either over the telephone or face to face You can call One Call anytime on 0845 300 8090. You can also visit your local GP, Kingston University’s Health Clinic or one of many websites out there to help and support you through this time:

Pregnancy at a young age can be difficult, and the possbility of lowering the cut off time for having an abortion makes the situation more stressful REX FEATURES

termination week if it was cut down to 12 weeks.” According to Marie Stopes International, an abortion help service, very few abortions (one per cent) currently occur after 20 weeks in the UK, and the vast majority (91 per cent) take place under 13 weeks. The majority of women who do present for a late stage abortion at 20–24 weeks do so for entirely understandable reasons. They also tend to be among the most vulnerable women. An earlier deadline for abortion could have risky results. Before the Abortion Act in 1968, women used back-street clinics to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Gemma fears a return of illegal abortions. “This would be so dangerous,” says Gemma. “It was explained to me that even in hospital there is a risk of infection. It makes me so angry to think girls might put them-

selves at such risk because they’re left with no other option. “In the interest of a life, I'd want to make my decision quickly regardless of whether I was pro-life or prochoice and in the interest of my own health. I'd have had mine earlier if I'd known. Being in hospital is traumatic and no one wants to go through that if they can help it,” says Gemma. Abigail Fitzgibbon, from BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service), also believes the limit should remain as it is. “Claims made by antiabortion MPs that medical advances in foetal viability justify a reduction in the time limit are false and also ignore the very difficult situations that women presenting for abortions post-20 weeks gestation find themselves in," she says. "Women who need access to later abortions need our compassion and unhindered access to the services they need.”

Abortion is hugely controversial and where national policy decisions are often made by men. It could be argued that they cannot understand what a woman goes through during this time. Marie Stopes International believes that both debate on this issue and the law itself should be based on expert review of the latest scientific evidence, not political opinion. A spokesman said: “Both the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Medical Association have said that a 24-week limit is appropriate and Marie Stopes International follows their guidance on what the appropriate term limit is. The important thing is that we stick with the scientific perspective.” Anti-abortion activists believe that once the foetus has a heart-beat, it has human rights. Some argue that abortion clinics are ‘baby-killers’.

Pregnancy can easily be intended or a mistake, but it is important to think about everyone involved. Kingston student Georgie, 20, knows only too well the reality of pro-life. “My mum had me when she was only 16-years-old,” she says. “My family are pro-life, whatever the circumstance. It may be an emotional time for anyone discovering they are pregnant, but I know my mum doesn’t regret having me. A cut isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you look to the future.” There are many organisations that will offer unlimited, free advice if you are pregnant and unsure. Helen Marsen from Marie Stopes International gives the following advice: “Having a pregnancy which is unplanned or unwanted can be a difficult experience. However it is one that many women go through so you are not alone.”