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University research calls for support for women affected by abortion

22 October 2010

Informal self-help groups which allow women to share their experiences of abortion would help to tackle feelings of secrecy and shame which continue to affect those who’ve undergone the procedure in the UK, new university research recommends.

As part of a three year PhD study funded by the Welsh Assembly Government Dr Edna Astbury-Ward, research fellow at Glyndŵr University, Wrexham, interviewed women nationwide about the care they received when requesting abortion.

The study included women who’d undergone abortion within as recently as two weeks prior to the interviews, to women whose abortion was 37 years ago.

The study concluded that while care was always delivered safely and appropriately, women’s feelings about the experience and level of compassion they received varied enormously - with many women experiencing what they perceived to be judgmental care from some healthcare workers.

More than 200,000 abortions were carried out in England, Wales and Scotland during 2009.

Dr Astbury-Ward was inspired to carry out the research through her work as a specialist contraception and sexual health nurse with Western Cheshire PCT, which provides abortion services at the Countess of Chester hospital.

She said: “One in three women will experience abortion in their reproductive lifetime but I was surprised at how much judgment remains in society about abortion and how women still blame themselves and feel immense shame.”

Dr Astbury-Ward, who will next week collect Glyndŵr University’s 2010 Chancellor’s Prize for Postgraduate Research Students in recognition of her work, suggested this reflects continuing negative attitudes from society towards abortion.

“There was a great feeling of isolation among all of the women I interviewed and there’s a definite need to support women through abortion informally, emotionally and psychologically.”

Women who took part in Dr Astbury-Ward’s research volunteered in response to advertisements in community contraception clinics.

“I was privileged to be given the opportunity to carry out the research,” she added. “The bravery and willingness of the women to come forward to speak about a deeply private, personal and sensitive aspect of their life was something I was extremely grateful for.

“My main hope for future abortion care would be that it is delivered by people who’ve volunteered to work in the field.”

Women in the Wrexham and Chester area interested in attending a self-help group are urged to contact Dr Astbury-Ward via email at e.astburyward@glyndwr.ac.uk.

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