UK Women Won't Get To Have Medication Abortions At Home

Illustration for article titled UK Women Won't Get To Have Medication Abortions At Home

When it comes to access to reproductive choice, the U.S. has few advantages over the U.K. Here's a big one: British women are denied the right to have medication abortions at home, forcing them to make two separate clinic visits and possibly experience symptoms in transit. Unfortunately, a judge recently upheld it.


In an early medication abortion, you take two separate pills, the second of which induces miscarriage, usually about 24-48 hours apart. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been fighting the health department on this front, but just lost its high court bid. They argued, convincingly, that making two visits to a clinic imposed a burden on women who lived far away, and also led them to fear miscarrying on the way home, as opposed to planning out their experience at home — a major advantage of choosing a medication abortion.

By contrast, here's how Planned Parenthood describes the process in the States:

You and your health care provider will plan the timing and place for the second step. You'll take the second medicine up to three days after taking the abortion pill. Your health care provider will give you instructions on how and when to take the second medicine.

The UK decision boiled down to whether the judge accepted BPAS's interpretation of the second part of the procedure as a prescription. But the judge did say that the government could choose to interpret existing law to allow at-home medication abortions, because under the 1967 Abortion Act, the secretary of state can adapt to "changes in medical science" and said the health minister has "the power to approve a wider range of place, including potentially the home, and the conditions on which such approval may be given relating to the particular medicine and the manner of its administration or use."

It's not clear from press reports whether the health department is motivated by the (mistaken, given other countries' track records) belief that there is a legitimate health risk, or by politics. It is, however, clear that the United States has no monopoly when it comes to condescending and contradictory arguments from anti-choicers. The statement from Life Charity, which fought the BPAS petition, basically throws whatever argument possible at the wall to see if it will stick. There's the spectre of past unsafe abortions:

If successful, BPAS will have succeeded in putting abortion back behind closed doors...‘Clearly, BPAS' intention is to increase access to abortion yet further, by making it little more than a pill-popping exercise. This has shifted the debate away from whether or not a woman has an abortion at all, simply to how and where she does it.

Well, yes, it sounds like BPAS does want to increase access, so that women can make the choices for their bodies and their future to which they're entitled. And it's true, it is little more than a pill-popping exercise, at least physically, occurring in the first nine weeks of gestation. Any further into the "debate" about whether a woman has an abortion is her own business. And then there's this:

‘Women deserve more support and information than they will get if the BPAS challenge is successful. Women may not be prepared for how they might feel - especially if abortion seems like an easy, one-step process.


There it is, the rhetoric that women need to be saved from their own decisions by people who know better. And furthermore, that if they are going to make that decision, the clear implication is that they should suffer as much as possible in the process. Why make it easy when you can punish her? Really, some logic crosses borders and oceans.

Early Abortion Court Challenge Fails [Guardian]
High Court To Rule On Abortions At Home [Guardian]
Statement on BPAS [Lifecharity]



Is there concern about people acquiring the drugs and administering them to other people without them knowing? I know that it's typically a two-stage process, but it seems like either of the two drugs could, in high enough doses, endanger the fetus with minimal* risk to the pregnant woman.

* "Minimal" in comparison to poisoning someone to abort the pregnancy.