Abortion: Wales 'needs better counselling services'
A woman who was left alone with no support after having an abortion said the experience was "traumatic".
Nikita Jain Jones, 31, was told there was a four-month wait for pre-abortion counselling via her GP as she could not get a face-to-face appointment via the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
"If I waited until then it would be too late to have the abortion," she said.
Ms Jones's health board, in Gwynedd, said counselling was available to "anyone who accesses BPAS services".
BPAS - which runs more than 60 clinics across the UK - says counselling is available to anyone who wants it before and after having an abortion.
But Ms Jones said she could not get a face-to-face appointment before her 24th week of pregnancy - the latest a woman can legally have an abortion in the UK
Ms Jones found out she was pregnant on her 30th birthday: "We have two lovely and healthy children already. But the two pregnancies were very difficult for me, I lost a lot of blood during both births.
"The idea of having to go through that again, and potentially losing my life and leaving my children without a mother, was too much for me. I couldn't go through that again."
Despite being "80% sure" she wanted a termination, she wanted to speak to a specialist counsellor before making her final decision.
"I can't put into words how many hours, days, months, I was just thinking: 'I don't know what to do'," she said.
Ms Jones said she went to her GP on the BPAS clinic's recommendation and was told the waiting list was 18 weeks long.
Unable to access the help she needed, she said the abortion had an effect on her physical and mental health: "I really struggled for the first couple of weeks following the abortion, I was bleeding heavily, I had clots, it was really painful and I had no support.
"Looking after my two children with no-one to talk to, no-one who understood, and no post-abortion counselling, that was traumatic."
BPAS said face-to-face counselling was "not always possible in every clinic" but to avoid women having to travel long distances "we provide over the phone counselling as well so that women can get support from home, wherever they live".
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board's interim executive director of nursing and midwifery, Debra Hickman, said: "While we do not have a specific in-house counselling service for people pre or post-termination, we discuss choices in our clinics with women who are pregnant and unsure about options.
"Counselling services, pre and post-termination, are also available to anyone who accesses BPAS services hosted in Llandudno."
Another woman - who wished to remain anonymous - said she was not offered clear advice and support when she decided to have an abortion in Cardiff last year.
"I didn't feel that I needed any counselling before having the abortion, but I did feel a lot of shame and guilt and I felt really stupid for getting myself into that situation," she said.
"It would have been nice if the doctor or nurse had given me the chance to talk about that stuff.
"It feels like, although you're totally free to have an abortion, it still feels as if you're doing something wrong."
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said counselling was an "integral" part of its obstetrics and gynaecology services.
It said: "All patients who request an abortion discuss their situation with a member of the pregnancy advisory service team before embarking on treatment to enable treatment provision in line with national guidance and legal framework.
"Patients are given the opportunity to fully consider and discuss their request in a non-judgemental way and to help them make the best decision for themselves."
The health board added vulnerable pregnant women are referred to relevant departments, agencies or external services.
Jane Calvert, lead co-ordinator for patient support at BPAS, said: "It may not be where you are we will have [a counselling] service, so if you want to have a face-to-face, you'll have to travel.
"Most women know exactly what they want to do, but they just need to talk through that moment with someone, so that they can be reassured that they are making the right decision."
What are abortion counselling services like across Wales?
Pre and post-abortion counselling services vary from one health board to another.
Some health boards - including Cardiff and Vale, Betsi Cadwaladr, Powys and Cwm Taf - use BPAS.
But Swansea, Aneurin Bevan and Hywel Dda health boards operate their own abortion services.
Following a NICE report in 2019, a special meeting was called to discuss the findings and state of abortion services in Wales.
Member of the Senedd Helen Mary Jones - a member of the cross-party group on women's health - said there were "big differences in how different health boards operated and that's not good enough".
She added: "Women should have the right to the same level of support and services wherever they are, and that of course starts with getting the same information."
Julie Richards, trustee for Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales, said: "I think because of the silence or the stigma surrounding abortion, there isn't enough information out there for women, especially for young women.
"We as a society, as women and men, need to speak about our experiences and take out all of the emotion, because it's such a divisive topic."
The Welsh Government said: "The decision to access termination of pregnancy services is never an easy one and all women will be provided with information about counselling services available to them.
"The provision of counselling services is a matter for individual health boards."