Ethics committee calls for better practices on late abortions

The ethics committee has made a series of recommendations on late termination of pregnancy, which it stresses can be traumatic. Keystone

Switzerland’s ethics committee has called for harmonization of medical practices on late abortions and better care for women who undergo them.

More than 10,000 abortions are carried out in Switzerland each year, according to the National Advisory Committee on Biomedical Ethics. Of these nearly 500 are done after the 12th week of pregnancy, and some 150 after the 17th week. Among these, about 40 are carried out after the 23rd week. This is only permitted if the pregnant woman is in deep distress as certified by a doctor.

Practices vary between Swiss clinics in determining up to what point and in what circumstances to perform later termination of pregnancy, says the committee. Access to such procedures can be more difficult in some regions than others, and some clinics perform more than the average number.

Women undergoing such procedures and their families may face health issues over the long term and should be offered appropriate care. At present, they have partial access to professional care but sometimes this is not adequately coordinated or not available during all pre- and post-natal stages, according to the press release.

The committee says that late abortions are usually drug-induced and that after the 17th week it is possible that a child be born alive.

To ensure uniform, quality care across Switzerland, it calls for exchange of information and experience, and the establishment of standard practices. It also recommends that women concerned should be given comprehensive information about the different methods of abortion and alternatives to such intervention. They should also be provided with care before, during and afterwards.

The commission stresses that any child born alive as a result of a procedure has a right to life and should be given all the medical care necessary. Women and their partners should also be warned that the child could be born alive if aborted late.

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