In Brief

Scottish women allowed to take ‘abortion pill’ at home in UK first

Decision brings Scotland in line with the US, France and Sweden

Women in Scotland will be the first in the UK to be allowed to take abortion pills in their own homes - a controversial decision both heralded as a progressive step forwards and condemned as marking a return to the days of dangerous backstreet abortions.

The Scottish government says the move does not require a change to the law but rather comes under existing powers set out in the 1967 Abortion Act.

Across England, Wales and Scotland, most abortions happen before 12 weeks with the use of drugs to induce miscarriage. “These medical abortions accounted for 82.9% of terminations performed in Scotland in 2016,” The Guardian reports.

The treatment involves taking two medicines - mifepristone and then misoprostol. Women often experience heavy bleeding within an hour of taking the latter.

Under current legislation, a woman must take the pills - issued with the consent of two doctors - inside a hospital or licensed clinic. The Scottish government’s revision of the licensing of misoprostol - announced today by public health minister Aileen Campbell - will allow women to collect the misoprostol pills and return home before taking them. 

Scotland’s move brings the country in line with France, Sweden and the US.

Those in favour argue that “allowing the pill to be taken at home will spare women from making additional trips to clinics, which can complicate childcare commitments as well as involve transport costs and time off work”, The Scotsman says.

But Gordon Macdonald, spokesperson for the Don’t Stop a Beating Heart coalition of pro-life groups in Scotland, told The Times that “encouraging women to have abortions at home is deeply concerning. There will be no healthcare support on hand should something go wrong, and who is to say that the drugs won’t go astray and be used inappropriately?”

A study earlier this year found medical abortions done at home with online help and pills sent in the post appear to be just as safe as those done at a clinic. The researchers tracked the outcome of 1,000 women in Ireland and Northern Ireland who used a website run by a group called Women on Web to get abortion pills, according to Cosmopolitan magazine.

Ann Furedi, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas), points out that abortion laws were drawn up 50 years ago, when no one imagined that tablets would be a “safe and effective” alternative to surgical intervention, reports the i newspaper. Forcing women to take the pills in a clinic before travelling home means “they are at risk of miscarrying en route”, Furedi says.

Bpas is now calling for the rest of the UK to follow Scotland’s lead.

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