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England abortion pill rules ‘out of step’

A woman's hands holding a pregnancy test

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Women in England should be allowed to take abortion pills at home rather than in the clinic, as they already can in Scotland and Wales, experts say.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is calling on the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, to change legislation and create parity.

Current laws require women to take two doses of medication in a clinic to end a pregnancy.

This means some experience cramping and bleeds on their journey home.

One woman from London, who chose to remain anonymous, told us: “Within a few minutes, I began miscarrying. I was bleeding heavily and the cramping was disabling.

“My friend had to help me walk from the car to his flat. It was humiliating and unnecessary. I remember feeling ashamed of myself and that maybe the pain and humiliation was necessary.”

RCOG president Prof Lesley Regan said: “We sincerely hope that one of the first things the new health secretary will do is to demonstrate his commitment to women’s health by enabling women to take misoprostol, the second drug used to effect an early medical abortion, at home.

“He has the opportunity to follow Wales and Scotland’s compassionate lead, giving women access to the care they want and need.”

Anti-abortion group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland is challenging the changes already introduced in Scotland and says they trivialise abortion and leave women with physical and mental harm.

SPUC Scotland chief executive John Deighan said: “In legal terms we believe the policy is outside the scope of the 1967 Abortion Act, so principally doctors have to act in accordance with the law and so does the Scottish government.”

Medical abortion

Early medical abortions take place in the first nine weeks of pregnancy and involve two sets of medication.

Under the 1967 Abortion Act, terminations can only be carried out on only licensed premises. In England, women must take both doses in a clinic or hospital but the Scottish and Welsh governments now permit the final dose to be administered at home.

Prof Sharon Cameron, a consultant gynaecologist in Edinburgh, said the changes, which came into effect in Scotland in October 2017, had increased trust between staff and patients.

“Women are hugely appreciative of this service. We know that we are significantly improving the wellbeing of thousands of women requesting an abortion each year in Scotland.”

Dr Jonathan Lord, a consultant gynaecologist based in Truro, Cornwall, said some of his patients had not made it home in time after taking the medication in his clinics.

“In a rural community such as Cornwall, where the travel times can be quite long and some of our patients are wholly reliant on public transport, it means they can be caught short on the journey home.

“Whereas if they were allowed to take the tablets at home, they have the privacy of their own home but also they don’t have the incredible trauma and embarrassment of losing the abortion on public transport.”

A Department of Health and Social Care official said: “Around 180,000 women have an abortion each year in England – our priority is always to ensure that care is safe and of a high quality. We will continue to monitor the evidence surrounding home-use.”

England abortion pill rules ‘out of step’

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