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Joint RCOG/FSRH statement on the long-term impact of abortion

News 22 October 2007

Having reviewed the available evidence, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and its Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) understand that there is no causal association between abortion and the future risk of mental illness or breast cancer.

A recent study has shown that requests for later terminations occur because of a range of reasons such as late recognition of pregnancy, poor access and slow services, ambivalence and denial. It is also noted that pre-existing psychological or behavioural patterns, a result of complex social circumstances in women seeking abortion, have, in most cases, more of an impact on a woman's mental health than the actual abortion.

The conflict of opinion in this sensitive area is acknowledged. The RCOG and the Faculty continue to support research in the field of abortion and its impact on women.

The RCOG and the Faculty believe that counselling and support should be offered to women pre- and post abortion, as stated in the RCOG Guideline The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion (September 2004). This includes providing women with accurate information about the immediate physical effects of the abortion and identifying vulnerable women at risk of developing psychological problems who may benefit from additional counselling. It is entirely appropriate that such care should be given by suitably trained professionals. The counselling should be unbiased and non-directional.

The recognised risks of an induced abortion include the subsequent risk of preterm delivery or miscarriage. It should be noted that current evidence state that the chances of developing these conditions is low.

The RCOG Guideline The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion (September 2004), provides health professionals with the recommended standards for clinical practice within the Abortion Act. Such guidelines are reviewed on a regular basis. The recommendations of the Science and Technology Committee will be fully considered at the next opportunity for review. In the meantime, the RCOG and FSRH will continue to emphasise the point that a national, evidence-based guideline on abortion is needed and is produced by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), based on the RCOG's own guideline.