Women who seek a termination should be “fully informed” about the possible consequences, a group of consultant psychiatrists have said in a letter to a national newspaper.
In the letter the medics highlighted a recent poll which showed the idea of “informed consent” enjoys massive public support.
They also pointed out that the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) has recommended that informed consent, including information on possible mental and physical risks to the woman, should be part of good practice in abortion provision.
The signatories of the letter also mention a major 30-year study which showed that women who had abortions had higher rates of mental disorder than their peers.
Prof Andrew Sims, a past president of the RCP, is among those who signed the letter to The Daily Telegraph.
Their call follows a debate in the House of Commons on the issue of abortion where MPs raised concerns over current abortion counselling practices.
The debate in the House of Commons was led by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries.
Mrs Dorries raised concerns about the current system of performing abortions, saying they are done “as quickly as possible and without fuss”.
She warned: “Minimal counselling or no counselling is provided in some NHS hospitals and some clinics.”
The MP went on to express caution over counselling carried out by abortion provider the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), saying “there is a clear conflict of interest there”.
Mrs Dorries also pointed to a number of European countries where informed consent legislation on abortion is in force.
She said countries with “good informed consent legislation” had lower average daily abortion rates than those with none.
Anne Milton, a minister with the Department of Health, responded for the Government. She said reducing the abortion rate is “an absolute priority” and that “advances” had been made to ensure women have “safe, legal abortions”.
A White Paper will be published later in the year, she said, which will set out the Government’s position in more detail. Mrs Milton also said results of a systematic review of the evidence surrounding mental health consequences of abortion will be published next year.
The poll which was referred to by the top medics was carried out by ComRes and commissioned by the campaign group Christian Concern.
As well as showing 89 per cent support for informed consent, the survey also revealed that the vast majority of people either vastly underestimated or didn’t know the true number of abortions taking place in Britain.
During 2009 there were over 200,000 abortions, but the survey revealed that just 3 per cent of the respondents correctly estimated that the number of abortions was between 150,000 and 250,000.
In 2008 the RCP warned that having an abortion could damage a woman’s mental health and said that women should be told the risks before proceeding.
This move represented a significant shift in policy for the RCP. In 1994 it said that the mental health risks associated with abortion were far less than those incurred when an unwanted pregnancy was carried to term.
But following a review of evidence, the RCP changed its view and called for doctors who assess women for abortion to assess for mental disorder and for risk factors that may be associated with its subsequent development.
The study mentioned by the medics in their letter to the Telegraph was a New Zealand-based study of over 500 women from birth to age 30.
It found that, even when other factors were taken into account, the risk of mental health problems increased by 30 per cent for women who had abortions.
The findings “clearly pose a challenge” to the use of mental health reasons to justify abortion, the authors of the study said.