Early medical abortions: Bid to change law fails

Image caption,
Women take four pills as part of the second part of their medication

A legal bid to allow women having an early medical abortion to take some of their pills at home has been rejected by the High Court.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) had challenged the law, arguing women should choose where they complete their treatment.

Women currently have to make two visits and are given pills each time.

The Department of Health opposed the change, which would have covered England, Scotland and Wales

Early medical abortions involve taking two sets of pills. These are taken 24 to 48 hours apart in order to induce a miscarriage.


They are available to women seeking abortion in the first nine weeks of pregnancy - more than 70,000 a year.

After an initial consultation, women have two appointments with a doctor and both times are given a set of pills.

In some other countries, both sets of pills are handed over at once and women are given instructions about when they should take the second set.

BPAS had argued giving women both sets of pills at once would mean women could control where the abortion actually takes place and could be sure that they would not experience cramping and bleeding on the way home from their appointments.

The charity questioned whether the legal definition of "treatment" for abortion covers both the prescription and the administration of medication.

But the High Court ruled treatment covered the administration as well, although it said the health secretary had the power to amend the rules if advances in medicine justified it.

The legal challenge only applied to England, Wales and Scotland. Abortion is only permitted in Northern Ireland in exceptional circumstances.

Some had claimed changing the law would send out a message that you can use abortion as contraception. Concern was also expressed that young girls having early medical abortions could end up feeling isolated and frightened.

But BPAS chief executive Ann Furedi said the charity would continue to press for a change in the law.

She said: "It cannot be morally right to compel a woman to physically take tablets in a clinic and to subject her to the anxiety that symptoms will start on the journey back when her doctor knows it is safe and indeed preferable for her to take these at home."

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