Fertility and pregnancy * Healthy living

Legal challenge to allow home abortions

Legal challenge to allow home abortions Charity goes to High Court

The UK's leading abortion provider will challenge the government in the High Court this month to allow women to have early medical abortions at home, rather than at a clinic.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) wants an updated interpretation of the 1967 Abortion Act, which states that “any treatment for the termination of pregnancy” must be carried out in a hospital or clinic.

The charity says that "treatment" is interpreted by the Department of Health as meaning that abortion medication must be both prescribed and administered at abortion clinics.

BPAS says that treatment could be interpreted differently to allow abortion medication to be prescribed and issued in a clinic, but administered by a woman at home.

Early medical abortions typically involve taking two sets of drugs 24 to 48 hours apart to induce miscarriage in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

Women have to attend an abortion clinic to be given the first of the two drugs, and then return for the second drug which causes miscarriage.

Under the proposed changes, women would be prescribed both sets of drugs at the same time when she first visits the clinic. The second set could then be taken at home after receiving the appropriate advice if she chooses to do so, in line with other countries including the US, France and Sweden.

Some women also become extremely anxious as they fear they may miscarry on the journey home from the clinic, especially if travelling long distances.

The charity says that early medical abortions are increasingly requested by UK women seeking abortion, with more than 70,000 such treatments in 2009.

BPAS also added that the current interpretation of the 1967 Abortion Act by the Department of Health is not in keeping with the intentions of parliament when it passed the original legislation, which were to ensure abortion was provided safely.

Ann Furedi, BPAS chief executive, said: “We are asking for a Court Declaration that, in early medical abortion, treatment should be defined as the prescribing and issuing of the necessary drugs, but not necessarily administration.

"This would be a definition in keeping with almost every other area of medical practice. The first medication would still be taken in the clinic, but the second could be taken at home, just as it is in other countries where this method is available.

“Health officials say we cannot offer the service that our clinicians consider best for women under the current law. Our legal advice is that this is wrong, and that is why we are seeking a High Court judgement. A small, sensible change in the interpretation of the law would mean a huge difference for women’s experience.”

This article was published on Thu 13 January 2011

Image © snaptitude - Fotolia.com

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