Psychiatrists and termination of pregnancy: clinical, legal and ethical aspects

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2012 Jan;46(1):18-27. doi: 10.1177/0004867411432075.


Objective: To provide practical guidance for psychiatrists asked to conduct an assessment of a woman requesting a termination of pregnancy.

Method: The law relevant to termination of pregnancy in each of the Australian states and territories and in New Zealand was synthesised and reviewed, as was the available literature around the key roles for the psychiatrist in these settings.

Results: Little is known about the rates of and reasons for terminations in Australasia. The 'lawfulness' of termination varies between jurisdictions and might require a consideration of the woman's mental health. When psychiatrists are asked to assist, their roles can be divided into: assessment and management of the woman's mental health, assessment of the woman's capacity to consent to the termination, assessment of the impact of having a termination or not having a termination upon the woman's mental health, assistance in determining the lawfulness of the proposed termination and, finally, support of the obstetric team providing terminations.

Conclusions: The psychiatric assessment of a woman requesting a termination of pregnancy requires an understanding of the ethical issues, the relevant law and a clinical framework within which the psychiatrist can delineate his or her various roles.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Legal / ethics*
  • Abortion, Legal / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Abortion, Legal / psychology
  • Australasia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / psychology*
  • Male
  • Mental Competency / psychology*
  • Mental Health / ethics*
  • Mental Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Pregnancy
  • Professional Role
  • Psychiatry*