Life-affirming organisations providing support to women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant need to be the sector leaders in the field to prevent knee-jerk reactions in favour of abortion in cases of crisis pregnancies.
Dr Joseph and Cushla Hassan, who set up St Luke’s Health Centre in Nelson 17 years ago, gave this message at a talk to the Auckland University student group, Prolife Auckland, on October 5. St Luke’s Health Centre is a Christian family health centre that offers all normal
general practice services “while maintaining respect for life from conception to natural death”.
“We talk a lot about unwanted pregnancy, but I think we also need to be thinking about unwanted abortion. Women may have an abortion not because that’s what they want, but they perceive that that’s their only option,” Dr Hassan told the students.
“Women must have free choice without coercion. For this to be an authentic choice, they must understand that reliable support is available should they decide to continue their pregnancy,” he said.
Mrs Hassan, the clinical nurse manager at Crisis Pregnancy Support – Hapai Taumaha Hapūtanga, explained that general practitioners, out of compassion for the woman in distress, quickly refer the woman to secondary services that often end up in abortion.
She said there is a “well-oiled pathway” from seeing a GP to having an abortion.
“In reality, what happens is the woman hasn’t actually got through the state of shock of finding out she is unexpectedly pregnant. She is going through a conveyor belt of unwanted decisions,” she said. “The next thing she knows, she is post-abortive. She didn’t become ‘unpregnant’ or the same as she was before she was pregnant. She became
post-abortive and is embarking on a whole journey she isn’t prepared for,” Mrs Hassan added.
Dr Hassan said they set up their general practice to provide an environment where a new service could be developed to provide genuine support for women facing unplanned pregnancy.
This service needed to be professional, reliable and sustainable, “walking alongside” women in this situation and connecting them with agencies and resources that can support them
should they decide to go through with the pregnancy.
They also provide support for women coping with pregnancy loss, including grief related to termination of pregnancy.
He said that, in the first year of their general practice, nine of the ten women who sought abortion decided to keep their babies.
The couple said they gave the women time to unpack the overwhelming problems associated with the pregnancy and help the women through those problems in a practical way by helping them access support from appropriate agencies.
Sometimes, they just need someone to listen, said Mrs Hassan.
“You are privileged to sit alongside someone who is vulnerable. Every time you go into a consultation with a woman, it’s like you go in completely naked with no skills, having to be vulnerable and real and be present in a way you can listen well,” she said.
Dr Hassan said their general practice taught him that crisis pregnancy is not a medical issue.
“There isn’t a disease and there is no cure. Abortion does not cure. It’s not really a medical issue — it’s a community issue,” he said.
“A lot of the decisions that are made are made behind closed doors of the consultations.
We need to open that up and allow communities to support women who are in this situation.”
He said there are many agencies which are already responding to this need like Crisis Pregnancy Support, Pregnancy Counselling services, Pregnancy Help, Family Life International and others.
“Many support agencies are starting to develop in this space in our community, but much more help is needed for the 13,000 women that are facing this issue,” he said.
The couple also encouraged students, particularly those who are going to be health practitioners themselves, to be true to what they (students) believe in.
“I think it’s helpful to do what I had to do which is to practise how to be truly yourself in your work environment and be an integrated person, not just a robot,” he said.
One of the students sought their advice as she (the student) was being trained to avoid offering any options in any direction when it comes to pregnancy and abortion.
Dr Hassan told the student that in every case it is important for a health care worker to respect the autonomy of the patient.
“We do not persuade patients, but if we are to give the best care it is important that all options are offered so that a patient does not get the impression that the only real choice when facing an unplanned pregnancy is abortion,” he said.
He explained that, at times, it may be appropriate for her (the student) to ask the patient’s permission so that she (the student) can offer her perspective to the patient. As a student, it is also important to discuss her approach with her supervisor.
The couple also told the students that in New Zealand all health professionals have the right to conscientious objection under current law.