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Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Signing the consent form

Before a pregnancy can be ended, the hospital is required to get written consent from the woman concerned. Consent forms explain what will happen during the termination. Some hospitals publish consent forms on their websites so that people can read them in advance. 

Most of the women we talked to said they couldn't remember signing the consent form, though most realised looking back on what happened that they must have done so. 

 

She didn't really read the consent form before she signed it because she was too preoccupied with...

She didn't really read the consent form before she signed it because she was too preoccupied with...

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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So they come down on the same day and you have to sign this massive consent form. They ask you to read it and you don't actually read it, you just browse over it because I couldn't tell you one word that was on that consent form - I signed it but I don't know what actually was going on. And he was really nice. He explained all what was happening but it just wasn't, it never sinks in. It doesn't sink in what's going to actually happen. And I went down for my surgery and [pause] it was just. I was going down there and I didn't want to be going down there. I didn't want to go down because I had mine done under general anaesthetic, my termination. I didn't want to be there, and I had a tissue in my hand, and when I woke up I still had that tissue clenched in my hand. 

Those who could remember signing the consent form had strong feelings about whether women should have sole responsibility for signing the form - some wanted their partners to share responsibility for the decision and to sign the form, others felt just as strongly that women only should sign the form. Men also held opposing views about whether they should sign consent forms.

 

She found it difficult having sole responsibility for signing the consent form because ending the...

She found it difficult having sole responsibility for signing the consent form because ending the...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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The other thing that I found really difficult - and I still do - is that you have to sign a consent form to have, to end a pregnancy. And I had to sign my baby's consent form, and my husband didn't. And I feel like sometimes it's just me. I know it was a joint decision but I find, I found that quite difficult to handle. And since ending the pregnancy my son's had surgery, and I made sure it was my husband's signature that was on it, because I found with it felt like a tremendous responsibility. It felt like it was all mine, and yet I knew it was my husband's as well. It was a silly thing, but perhaps symbolic that I found quite difficult at the time.

 

Feels that its best for the woman to sign the consent form on her own because it's her body and...

Feels that its best for the woman to sign the consent form on her own because it's her body and...

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Male
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Well I'm kind of glad I didn't have to sign a consent form. 

No, I don't wish I could have, but it would have been... no, but its nice to know that you are part of the decision as well I suppose. I can totally see why the form is like that, because it's entirely down to the mother, and she might be on her own anyway without a husband... and its her body, and it has to be, it has to be her decision. So from that point of view there is no other way to do it, I don't think anyway. It has to be only her decision.

Seeing particular words and phrases set out on the consent form shocked people. The words 'termination', 'abortion' and 'feticide' all upset some people. A woman who read all her medical notes said she was shocked to see that her file contained documents referring to the 'Abortion Act'. 

 

Seeing the legal paperwork made her feel as if she had done something wrong.

Seeing the legal paperwork made her feel as if she had done something wrong.

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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Which is all the, because we opened it all of course - because I would - it was all the like Abortion Act stuff, which we read and then realised that the baby was a girl, which we didn't know, because we didn't want to know. And then we read that, read all of the, all the information first-hand because we hadn't received any paperwork at that point. 

And [we] just went through everything. And that, I don't know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. I think seeing 'Abortion Act' written on a heading, you know it's like a legal paper, was sort of pretty powerful stuff. Because I never, I didn't really regard it as that. Because the legal framework doesn't really fit with the, you know the medical or you know the decisions you're making because of a medical reason - if you see what I mean - it seemed really, it's almost like you're doing something wrong, this is a legal abortion. But the, but the word itself is so negative, that whole connotation is so negative.
 
 

She made the nurses add the phrase 'for fetal abnormality' to the word 'termination' on her...

She made the nurses add the phrase 'for fetal abnormality' to the word 'termination' on her...

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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And I made the arrangements to go into the ward where I knew all the nurses because I worked with them, and all the theatre staff. And I had this thing in my head. They wasn't just going to write 'termination' on the consent form. It had to be 'termination for a fetal abnormality' because I was paranoid that I don't want anybody thinking I'm just having a termination, you know, when I agree with them but it's just like. It was, oh I've got to make sure that anybody who knows me knows what's doing you know. 

I think if they'd had offered him a form to sign I would have hit the roof, because that's my body. I'm the one who has actually got to go through this. I am the one who, at the end of the day, If I'd carried on with this pregnancy because he wouldn't sign the form and this baby died inside me I'd have to give birth to him, not him, you know. 

They should be there. They should be spoken to, and you should talk, but ultimately at the end of the day a woman's got to go through it.  And no I would, this sounds really horrible but no man has the right, I feel, to sign a form for you. I really, that may be his baby, but he's not carrying it, and I don't feel that they have any right to sign a form. That would just really, I think that would have tipped me over the edge before I'd even done anything, because that's like going back years when men used to sign for women to have operations you know. I really don't feel that that would have helped. 

Speak to them by all means which I can honestly say they did. The care that we got before was fantastic especially up at [hospital]. They spoke to you as a couple. You could speak to them individually if you wanted to - like I could have spoken to them, then [husband] could have asked them questions. You were given every option up there to not only be a couple but to be you as well. And I really don't think that they could have offered anymore.

Ending a pregnancy consent forms also have to be signed by two doctors who are required to check that the woman understands what she is about to do and that she has had all the information she needs to make the decision. One woman described how even though she realised the doctor was only doing his job she found his questions unsettled her at a very difficult time when she wanted reassurance. She felt she was being asked to justify her decision and which seemed more important to her at that moment than signing the consent form.

 

She understood that the hospital doctor had to ask her questions but said that he could have...

She understood that the hospital doctor had to ask her questions but said that he could have...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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And I then had the job as I say of convincing the consultant at the local hospital that I'd made an informed decision about terminating the pregnancy. And I don't know if they do this for everybody but he questioned and questioned and questioned whether I understood the diagnoses, the prognoses. 

And he kept saying things like you know, 'You do realise scanning machines aren't crystal balls they, people make mistakes looking into them.' And when you're in a situation like that you want to hang on to any grain of hope there is, and I thought now is he telling me everything's going to be alright and they've made a mistake? 

Having got to the point of having made that decision sort of any grain of hope you hold on to it and you think well maybe he's telling me that they've made a mistake, maybe everything will be all right and - so I sort of stayed with my feet on the ground, and tried to explain that I understood what I'd been told at the, at the big hospital and from what they'd said there wasn't any hope and that I wanted to terminate now because I thought it would be much more distressing losing a baby at full-term.

I'm pretty sure they gave me a tablet after that appointment to start softening the cervix, once I'd convinced him and signed the pieces of paper that was it. And I remember asking the midwife when I, when I left, 'Can I go and have a drink now?' [laughs]. Because obviously when you're pregnant you can't drink, and especially if there's something going wrong you just, so that was one of the first thing I wanted to do. I said, 'Can I go home and have a couple of glasses of wine or a beer or something?' 
 

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated June 2014.

 
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