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Decision-making about Unplanned Pregnancy

Making unexpected decisions about health issues is often difficult; decision-making around an unplanned pregnancy is no different. For many women, an unplanned pregnancy can be one of the first times that they have had to deal with a decision about their health and the course of their life.

If you experience an unplanned pregnancy you have three options:

  • continuing the pregnancy and raising a child

  • continuing the pregnancy and placing the child for adoption

  • ending the pregnancy by having an abortion

You may reflect on many aspects of your life when considering these options. Unplanned pregnancy can happen at different stages of a woman's life. Often the decision is about what is best at this time; at another point in your life the decision might be different.

You may:

  • think about your own personal beliefs, values and practices and those of others in your life

  • assess your existing relationships (partners, family, friends) and the support that these relationships need and can provide

  • evaluate financial and social realities

  • look at your living conditions and life circumstances

  • examine your feelings about becoming a mother and about parenting

  • explore spiritual, religious and cultural beliefs

  • consider the reactions of others to your decision

As with any decision, you need to come to grips with making a decision and living with that decision. It is very common for women to have a variety of emotional reactions to an unplanned pregnancy; dealing with your feelings is an important part of making a decision you can live with. Each woman is unique and the time and effort needed to make a decision will be different.

Who to Talk to

Weighing the pros and cons of such a personal decision can feel reassuring, stressful and/or challenging. You may wish to seek advice when making this decision. Who a woman chooses to talk to varies; each of us has our own needs for privacy and for emotional, physical, economic and spiritual support. You may look for people to help you in the decision-making process who are:

  • knowledgeable (be able to provide information or referrals)

  • non-judgmental

  • someone who can provide support whatever the decision

  • someone who you feel comfortable talking to

Some women only want to talk to health care providers; others want to include a partner or family member, a friend or a clergy person. Whoever you talk to, you should never feel coerced or forced to make a decision that is not your own.

Learning about the Options

Often a woman needs to learn more about her options before she can make a decision. Each option contains its own set of decisions. You may need more information before you can make the choices that are best for you. No matter what your decision, there will be other things you need to do and other choices you have to make.

When considering continuing a pregnancy, there will be decisions around choosing a health care provider such as a doctor or midwife, keeping healthy through pregnancy and choosing how and where the delivery will occur.

When considering adoption, you will also need to contact agencies working in this area to find out about the process and how it works. You may want a doctor or healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about your needs to support you through the adoption process.

When considering abortion, you need to know what procedures are available in your community and where (hospital, clinic, doctor's office). In some parts of South Africa, you may need to consider traveling to have some or all procedures. The appropriate procedure for an abortion is based on:

  • gestational size (number of weeks since your last period)

  • your general health

  • the available procedures

  • your preferences

Most abortion providers can refer you to counselling that will help you make the best decision for you around unplanned pregnancy. Abortion in South Africa is generally available up to 20 weeks. More details about abortion and the procedures available are provided in the documents below.

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