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Confusion on ‘12 weeks’ when accessing abortion – leading provider

There is “a huge amount of confusion” about what constitutes 12 weeks’ pregnancy among many women seeking termination of pregnancy services, contributing to some “very fraught” situations around accessing care within the time limit, according to the Medical Director of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) Dr Caitriona Henchion.

Under the ‘early pregnancy’ provision of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, an abortion may be carried out where a doctor is of the reasonable opinion that the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks. Under the legislation, pregnancy is dated from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period.

“There has been a huge amount of confusion regarding what 12 weeks means, particularly because, for example, 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 onto 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 eleven-plus, it becomes a panic to try and 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.”

Furthermore, some women are upset to discover there is a mandatory waiting period of at least three days between certification and the procedure, while others “are fully aware of that”, according to Dr Henchion.

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