Crisis pregnancies - how one service is helping women
by Deborah Condon
The Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) was
established in 2001, with the aim of reducing the number of crisis pregnancies
in this country, through the provision of education, advice and contraceptive
services. However, the agency was also established to help those who were
already pregnant and in crisis.
One such CPA-funded service is the Crisis
Pregnancy Counselling and Support Service serving the catchment area of
Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe. It covers East Galway, Roscommon,
Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and North Tipperary and provides a good example of
how the service works for women who need it.
A crisis pregnancy is defined as a
pregnancy which is neither planned nor desired by the woman concerned and which
represents a personal crisis for her. This definition also includes women for
whom a planned or desired pregnancy develops into a crisis over time due to a
change in circumstances.
The Portiuncula service is unique in that
it has a hospital and community base, to facilitate easy access. However,
according to social worker and project manager, Cathy Fox, the large number of
women who do not make contact until their pregnancy is well advanced - is also
"One of the issues we have seen in
Portiuncula Hospital is the high incidence of delayed contact. From speaking to
social workers in other areas, it appears to be a problem unique to this
area", she told irishhealth.com.
Prior to the establishment of this service,
at least 50 women every year were presenting at the antenatal clinic in
Portiuncula with concealed pregnancies. Those who had delayed contact were at
least 20 weeks pregnant already.
Waiting to seek help
Apart from the potential physical
consequences this can have on the mother and unborn baby, Ms Fox points out
that these women are 'open to damage', due to the possible psychological and
emotional effects of waiting to seek help.
"Women give various reasons for their
late presentation. These include fear, denial, the anticipated negative
reaction from their family or partner or the perceived disruption to their life
plans. For some women, there is unfortunately still a stigma attached to
But what proportion of pregnancies can be
considered crisis pregnancies? Due to the sensitivity and secrecy which can
surround this issue, the CPA has had difficulty in establishing this. However
it does estimate that 30% of all conceptions outside of marriage end in
So what kind of women use the service in
Portiuncula? Is it mostly teenagers, too afraid to tell their parents that they
"We often think of teens when this
subject arises. Actually, the number of teenagers having babies has not risen
significantly in recent years. Women in the 20-24 age group and the 25-30 age
group are presenting more. They may be attending college or in the middle of
establishing their career, therefore a pregnancy presents a real crisis for
them", Ms Fox said.
She added that older women use the service
too and are 'often left out of the literature', when it comes to this subject.
"An older woman may have already
finished her child-rearing and then find herself pregnant again, resulting in a
crisis for her. It is essential that older women realise that this service is
for them too".
So how does the service work? Women who
wish to avail of it can call a phone number or send an email (contact details
are at the end of this article). They will be offered an appointment with a
social worker within 48 hours of making contact. That appointment will be made
at a time and location which suits the woman.
The service has a base in the social work
office located in the maternity department of Portiuncula Hospital. But for
women who are in the early stages of a crisis pregnancy, or who for whatever
reason, do not want to attend the hospital, an outreach office is now open in
the Marina Centre in Ballinasloe. According to Ms Fox, this office is located
in a 'discreet location'.
"A woman who contacts the service
will be offered a home appointment if she cannot make it to the hospital or the
outreach office. This is to ensure that issues such as a lack of transport, do
not act as a barrier to the service", she said.
During counselling, all options open to
the woman are explored, from keeping the baby, to adoption to abortion. Ms Fox
points out that legally, if a woman seeks information only about abortion, she
can only be given this in the context of all of her options. Furthermore, if
the woman chooses to go ahead with an abortion, the service can only provide a
contact number for a recognised clinic in Britain - it is up to the woman to
make the appointment.
However, the service also offers
post-abortion counselling for women who have had a termination either recently
or some time ago.
"Many women who have an abortion do
not receive any kind of counselling. They may feel that they do not need it at
the time, however it may become an issue later, for example, with future
pregnancies", she explained.
The service recognises too that men may
experience psychological and emotional stress when the woman in their life is
confronted with a crisis pregnancy.
"Women are encouraged to share the
problem with their partners or the father of their baby. We also encourage them
to put both parents' names on the birth certificate, both for theirs and their
child's sake", Ms Fox said.
The counselling and support service in
Portiuncula is free of charge and completely confidential.
"It is important that the service is
there, but also that there is confidence in it. Every woman is unique and every
position is unique. We offer a non-judgemental, non-directive and sympathetic
service", she added.
The counselling and support service in
Portiuncula can be accessed through a callsave number, 1850 200 600, or at
(090) 964 8190. Phone lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, with a
message minding facility outside of these times. Alternatively you can email
Referrals from GPs, public health nurses,
youth workers etc…can be made using either of the above numbers or by calling
the social work department in Portiuncula directly at (090) 964 8306.
If you live elsewhere, contact the Crisis
Pregnancy Agency’s national number: Dublin 8146292.