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The issue of abortion has been forced into everyone's thoughts in recent weeks. First there was the news of the woman who chose to terminate one of her healthy twins.

Then came Mandy Allwood, the woman expecting eight babies who is refusing a potentially life- saving selective abortion and has sold the story of their impending birth - fuelling claims that she is putting her bank balance first.

Almost a third of all pregnancies in Britain end in abortion. But while we argue about the rights and the wrongs, what about the people asked to actually carry out abortions?

Anne Barrowclough asked four nurses what they really think about the morality of the issue...


Marie Stafford, 50, has worked in the abortion field since 1989 as a Sister for Marie Stopes Fairfield Clinic. She lives in Chelmsford, Essex, with her partner and has no children.

I was brought up a Roman Catholic to believe that life was sacred, but I have no qualms about abortion.

I feel strongly about the woman's right to choose.

As a student, most of my Catholic colleagues refused to attend abortions, but my own turning point came when a friend, who was only 18, went to a back-street abortionist and was found dead in her bed the next day.

However, there are times when the reality of it all hits you. When you are at the operation, particularly with the later terminations, it can be difficult. You might think: "Oh God, that's a potential life." But you learn to distinguish between the procedure itself and the need to support the woman's right to choose.

I would have no qualms about having an abortion.

You see a lot of trauma and tragedy. It's awful when girls come to you when they have gone over the 24-week limit. And sadly some GPs who are anti-abortion delay referring patients until it's too late.

Once we had a member of Life, the pro-life organisation, come for a termination. She was very strongly anti-abortion, but she had an affair on holiday and came back pregnant.

She had a terrible conscience about it. She was middle-aged, married, and her husband said he would stand by her, but she couldn't cope with having this child.

She admitted that as a member of Life she had never been prepared to listen to women's views and it was only when she had to go have an abortion herself that she realised the torment most women in this situation suffer.

At the other end of the scale, I once had a young girl who'd had four abortions and she said it was cheaper for her to have abortions than use any form of contraception because her boyfriend paid for the abortions. She complained about our menu, saying it wasn't as good as the last time.

That young girl amazed me, but fortunately people with that kind of attitude are very much in the minority.

'What would happen to

the unwanted babies?'

Pippa Jenkins, 41, is a theatre sister who has been involved in abortions for three years and works for the Marie Stopes clinic. She is married with three children and lives in North London.

Although it might sound strange, having a family has made it easier for me to work in the abortion field, because I know just how hard it is to cope with children - even when you want them.

The first time I attended a late termination it was upsetting. I wouldn't be human if I didn't sometimes question what I was doing. But above all I believe that the woman must come first. In fact, I feel so strongly about this that when I was 20 weeks pregnant, I assisted in an NHS termination when all my colleagues refused on moral and religious grounds.

The patient had a grossly abnormal foetus and I knew just how I would have felt had I been her so I had to help.

I don't look at it as the taking away a life because embryos cannot sustain life outside the womb. If women could not have abortions, what would happen to the thousands of unwanted babies?

'I hear

girls beg

for help'

Shelley Mehigan, 42, is a clinical nurse who has specialised in family planning for 18 years. She has two children and lives in Reading, Berkshire.

IT'S my job to make sure women are aware of all the options and choose whatever is the best for them.

The longer I work in this area, the easier it becomes for me to cope with the issues.

I've taken part in some terminations, but I try to detach myself so I don't feel so bad.

How easy it is to have an abortion depends on where you live. Some GPs can make it more difficult because they don't agree with it. Some health authorities only budget for so many a month, so if you can't afford to go private you go on a waiting list.

I do get cross with women who let themselves get pregnant through stupidity - by continually failing to use contraception.

But I also see a lot of women who are in dreadful situations and are desperate for help.

'Society says abortion is

easy option'

Virginia Griffin, 41, has been a nurse, midwife, fertility counsellor and natural family planning teacher for 22 years. She works at the Life Health Clinic in Liverpool, and counsels women who have had abortions.

I'm pro-choice - but I believe very strongly in women's right to decide NOT to have an abortion.

I think society puts too much pressure on women to have abortions for the slightest of reasons.

If a woman is on the point of death and ending the pregnancy is the only way to save her, that would be different.

But, speaking as a midwife, I think that argument is used too often without thinking.

If a mother's life really is in danger, I find that the pregnancy comes to an end naturally because the mother will have a miscarriage.

Alternatively, the pregnancy can be continued until the baby has a viable chance of life outside the womb. When that is medically possible, why do we not then give the baby the best possible chance of life instead of just deciding to kill it?

I feel the same way about selective abortion. In a multiple pregnancy, Mother Nature will take its course and if the foetuses are to die, they will die naturally.

I also believe it is too easy for women to say they'll have an abortion because they won't be able to cope financially. Here again, this is society putting on the pressure.

But women can get support through social services, and from centres such as ours which offer immediate support and continue it after the baby's birth.

We're still helping people whose mothers came to us 25 years ago because we don't believe that the support process should continue only in the few months after a birth.

Over the years I have felt more and more strongly about the issue.

One of the main reasons I feel so strongly is that I see the effect that abortion has on the women themselves.

The long-term damage can be devastating.

I see women who are still suffering from a termination they had decades earlier.

Having to help them pick up the pieces just makes me more and more convinced that abortion is wrong - not only because of the loss of a potential life but also because of the destruction of the mother's life.
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Barrowclough, Ann
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 18, 1996
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