End the shame game

Any healthcare professional who works in the clinical field of abortion does so because they support women’s ability to make their own reproductive decisions.

Picture credit: Alamy

As the Nursing and Midwifery Council notes, caring for a woman with an unwanted pregnancy is a demanding yet rewarding area of nursing. Nurses have a professional responsibility to act with integrity and ensure that their personal views do not influence the care of their patient or client.

For those of us who work in this area, a familiar feature is protesters congregating outside clinics, precisely to impose their personal views on pregnant women as they enter a centre. Creating a safe space – or buffer zone – outside clinics, as urged by Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper, would help to ensure women can access this much-needed service in privacy and dignity.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in this protest activity. These people position themselves outside clinics, sometimes with cameras strapped around their necks or bearing banners with pictures of aborted fetuses. They allege their presence is needed because clinic staff will not tell the truth about abortion and do not accurately describe the process or what will happen afterwards.

This could not be further from the truth. The consultation process covers all the risks (abortion is in fact a very safe procedure), complications, side effects of medications, how the chosen method of treatment will affect the patient physically, and the rapid return to fertility.

This is not done in a few minutes – we take as much time as is needed to support the woman as she decides, for herself, what she wants to do.

No pressure is exerted on the woman to go through with the abortion. I have sent some women away as I could see they were not ready to decide. Often they return for treatment and are grateful you acknowledged that they needed more time.

Women also know that they are able to change their minds right up to the point of the procedure. If a woman decides to continue her pregnancy, we ensure swift access to antenatal care.

We are a highly skilled part of the multidisciplinary team, often in nurse-led clinics working under the guidance of a medical practitioner. We work hard to ensure women have access to free, safe, legal health care that includes abortion. We undertake further qualifications in ultrasound scanning and contraceptive counselling – and are rigorously tested on these skills.

Our biggest skill, however, is putting women at ease and consoling them after they have had to make their way through a huddle of protesters outside the clinic. Women tell us it makes them feel intimidated, ashamed and guilty on what is already a difficult day.

Placing buffer zones outside abortion clinics is no silver bullet to the shame and stigma that sadly continues to surround abortion. We often see women who are upset because, feeling unable to confide in friends or family for fear of their reaction, they have found shaming anti-abortion websites in their search for information.

None of this will go away overnight. But protecting the space outside clinics would mean women trying to access impartial advice and care would not be the targets of a campaign to restrict their reproductive choices. Wherever we stand on abortion, this must be something we can all get behind.

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