Women in Scotland will be the first in the UK to be allowed to take abortion pills at home, in a move welcomed by pro-choice groups and feminist campaigners.
Until now, all women seeking a termination in England, Scotland and Wales have been required to visit a licensed abortion clinic twice in two days. On the first day, they take a drug called mifepristone, which stops the hormone that allows a pregnancy to continue.
The following day, they have to return to the clinic to take a pill called misoprostol, which causes the lining of the womb to break down, inducing bleeding and the loss of pregnancy.
Both misoprostol and mifepristone have been proven to be safe and effective, and the procedure is known as a medical abortion. The medication can be taken at any stage of pregnancy before 24 weeks (the UK’s legal time limit for terminations), though occasionally abortions after nine weeks require a minor surgical procedure.
Women seeking a medical abortion in Scotland will now only have to visit a clinic once, to take mifepristone. During this visit they will be given a misoprostol pill, which they can then take in the comfort of their own home the next day.
The Scottish government said that the move will not require a change in the law because of existing powers under the 1967 Abortion Act. The decision was made after Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, wrote to health boards recommending that women be allowed to take misoprostol at home, The Independent reports.
Taking misoprostol at home “allows women to be in control of their treatment and as comfortable as possible during this procedure,” said Aileen Campbell, Scotland’s public health minister.
“Abortion can be an emotive subject, however I am proud this government is working hard to ensure women are always able to access clinically safe services,” she continued.
Pro-choice campaign groups applauded the move. Rape Crisis Scotland, Engender and Amnesty Scotland said that making women travel to clinics to take misoprostol “denies women clear potential advantages in terms of their wellbeing at what is often a very difficult time”.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been lobbying to change UK laws to allow women to take misoprostol at home. A spokesperson said that requiring women to take the second abortion pill in a clinic may result in them beginning to pass the pregnancy as they travel home, which can include bleeding and other painful or upsetting symptoms.
Anne Furedi, BPAS’ chief executive, said that the Scottish government’s decision “will spare women not only the difficulties associated with having to make more than one clinic visit, childcare, transport, time off work, but it will also spare women from the risk of symptoms on their way home, having taken the medication in a clinic”.
Misoprostol is also given to women who are suffering an incomplete miscarriage, and these women are usually actively encouraged to take the medication at home for their own comfort. For that reason, Furedi said, women in England and Wales should also be allowed to take misoprostol at home if they want to terminate a pregnancy.
“It is simply perverse that a woman arriving at a BPAS clinic in England and Wales with an incomplete miscarriage can be given the medication to take in the comfort and privacy of her own home, while a woman seeking an abortion must take the same medication on site,” she said.
“We hope that the government will follow Scotland’s lead and roll out this important policy change across the rest of Great Britain.”
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