Pill panic led to 3,000 abortions

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The Independent Online
UP TO 3,000 women who stopped taking the contraceptive pill because of a controversial government health alert have become pregnant and have had abortions, writes Roger Dobson.

Doctors in Bristol have established that 52 women, aged 17 to 30, had asked for an abortion on the grounds that they became pregnant when they stopped taking the pill because of the scare about thrombosis side-effects last autumn.

"Nationally we believe the figure will be around 3,000 women," said Dr Christine Horrocks, head of family planning and reproductive health services at the Frenchay NHS Trust. And an Oxford GP, Dr Sally Hope, who carried out a survey of her patients found that 12 per cent of women had stopped taking the pill on the day that the Committee on the Safety of Medicines (CSM) put out its warning.

The Government and the CSM were strongly attacked by doctors over the warning and the way it was put out, with some doctors hearing about it from the media and unable to counsel or advise their patients.

The warning followed reports that there was a slightly increased risk of thrombosis with the new, third-generation contraceptive pill. Some doctors say the risks were so minimal there was no need to issue the warning, which led to widespread panic and fear.

Official figures on the effects of the announcement on women's health, both in terms of abortions and extra pregnancies, will not be known for some months. Nineteen years ago a pill scare in the Netherlands resulted in 13,000 unplanned pregnancies, half of which were aborted.

Dr Horrocks said: "We have now had 52 women who had a termination after becoming pregnant when they stopped taking the pill and changed to less reliable techniques. Official figures won't be out for a year, but the message we want to get across is that the risks are minute."