Margot Schachl

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    No compulsory counselling: The advantages for women

    Margot Schaschl (Austria)

    Gynmed Clinic, Vienna, Austria

    Austrian law only requires counselling by the medical doctor. This is usually no more than a standard medical conversation about informed consent. There are no other regulations, and no requirement for further counselling, nor does the law provide for any compensation for such counselling.

    Our experience has shown that more than 90% of the women who come to us for an abortion have already made their decision. In most cases, the decision is made quickly, within a few days, usually with advice and support from a partner, family, or friends. Many women also search the Internet for information. But most women do not need professional counselling to make a decision.

    The advantages of the Austrian system for women are:

    • The woman does not have to visit a counselling centre, which usually incurs extra effort and financial costs (i.e. taking time off work or school, travel expenses, childcare, etc.)
    • For advanced pregnancies, each day counts and the extra time needed for compulsory counselling can put a woman past the legal deadline.
    • A rapid appointment is possible. This offers a better possibility to choose between medical and surgical abortion.
    • The woman need not justify her decision in front of a stranger, thus respecting her privacy and reducing the psychological pressure.
    • Less emotional stress means less problems, pain and fear when the abortion is done.
    • Unnecessary concerns are not raised or fuelled.
    • The decision remains self-determined by the woman. This helps her “own” it, so she can accept the responsibility and live with her decision more easily.

    The basis for the counselling is accepting and respecting the woman’s decision. To challenge her decision is neither fair nor professional. On the contrary, being too investigative can lead to paternalism.

    Another key element of the counselling is that each woman knows best about her present life circumstances. Therefore, only she can decide if she needs assistance in her situation.

    Professional counselling is good and necessary. Nevertheless it should be voluntary, patient-directed, and individually adapted for each woman.

    There are few things that could do more harm than biased counselling that tries to lead the woman to a particular decision. That can lead to indoctrination.