Scare over Pill linked to rise in abortions

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The Independent Online
Alarming new evidence has emerged of a huge increase in unwanted pregnancies following last October's scare over the safety of the contraceptive Pill.

In Bristol, the number of requests for an abortion in the last three months has more than doubled leading to longer waiting times for the operation.

In Norwich, statistics show a 20 per cent rise - and the number of abortion clinics has been increased from three to four a week to cope with demand.

Family planning experts in Glasgow also report a rise, details of which will be published in the next six weeks.

And as many as 40 cases of unwanted pregnancies have been reported by the Marie Stopes charity which runs six family planning clinics in Leeds, Manchester, Essex and London.

Family planners say the demand is unprecedented, and the rise will prompt fears of a reversal in the downward trend of teenage pregnancy rates - one of the Government's Health of the Nation targets.

About 1.5 million women taking the "third-generation" Pill were told last October that they faced an increased risk of blood clots in the legs. The Government's Committee on the Safety of Medicines said research had shown women taking these kinds of Pill were twice as likely to suffer from deep vein thrombosis as those on other types of oral contraceptives.

The seven brands involved are Femodene, Femodene ED, Minulet, Triadene, Tri-minulet, Marvelon and Mercilon.

Doctors were advised not to prescribe these pills to women who were overweight, or had varicose veins or a history of thrombosis.

Women taking the pills were urged to keep taking them until the end of their cycle, then discuss with their doctor whether to switch to another contraceptive. But fear appears to have been driven many off the Pill altogether.

This is borne out by a survey of 1,300 third-generation users carried out three weeks after Government's announcement.

More than half had their confidence shaken and teenagers were particularly confused over the level of increased risk, according to Christopher Allison, for Exeter University's Institute of Population Studies.

A separate survey by Dr Sally Hope, a family doctor in Oxford, said 12 per cent of users at her practice stopped taking the Pill on the day of the warning.

Dr Christine Horrocks, a family planning expert at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, said at least 56 women were known to have had a termination in the last three months because fear had prompted them to stop taking the Pill. "This is probably an under-estimate. In February, we could barely cope with the numbers coming in. Instead of having 70 women waiting at one time, there were 170. The waiting list was much longer. Sometimes it was difficult getting women seen before 12 weeks."

Dr Kate Nash, principal medical officer for the Central Family Planning Clinic, in Norwich said figures in the three-month period from December to February showed the number of terminations was 258 compared with 214 carried out over the same period the previous year.

Evidence showed 18 had stopped taking the Pill following the publicity and become pregnant as a result, while 32 said they were about to start taking the Pill but turned to other less reliable methods.

Further evidence of the rise is likely to be revealed in a British Pregnancy Advisory Service survey to be published next week.