Women seeking abortions in England, Wales and Scotland will have to continue taking abortion medication at a medical clinic rather than at home following a ruling by Britain’s High Court.
The court on Monday rejected a bid by abortion provider BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) to reinterpret the 1967 Abortion Act, which requires a pregnancy be “terminated by a registered medical practitioner.”
Specifically, BPAS sought to pave the way for women to be prescribed the abortion drug misoprostol while taking the first drug, mifepristone, at a clinic so that the second could be self-administered at home.
“This would have put an end to women making multiple, medically unnecessary visits to clinics and eliminated the risk of abortion symptoms beginning - and in some cases the miscarriage itself occurring - as they travelled home after taking the tablets,” Britain’s largest abortion provider argued Monday in a statement following the ruling.
However, while BPAS claimed that the prescription of an abortion drug could be considered “treatment” from a medical practitioner, High Court Justice Michael Supperstone argued that "treatment" is not, in his view, properly restricted to the act of diagnosis and the prescription of drugs or medicine.
“If the drugs or tablets were prescribed by the registered medical practitioner and not taken by the woman, the opportunity for treatment would have been available but it would not have been taken,” Supperstone wrote in Monday’s judgment.
Furthermore, the judge pointed out that while misoprostol may have a record of safety and effectiveness, accepting BPAS’s claim would open the door for abortion drugs that don’t. BPAS’s proposed change would also apply for abortion of fetuses over nine weeks old.
“In my judgment, for the reasons that I have given, this claim fails,” Supperstone concluded.
Quickly after the judgment’s release, pro-lifers hailed the court’s decision as a victory for women, claiming that it was a “welcome message in a society which has been led to believe that abortion is an easy ‘answer’ to an unplanned pregnancy.”
“Britain has some of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe and one of the highest abortion rates, and we need to reduce the number of abortions and tighten the law, not relax it,” remarked Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of U.K.-based Christian Concern.
“If BPAS had won this case, it would send out the false signal that there is a ‘safe’ route to abortion,” added Katherine Hampton, a spokeswoman for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), which intervened in BPAS’s legal battle against the Secretary of State for Health.
“That could lead to more abortions, and more dead babies and more suffering for women,” Williams claimed. “It would also have led to further restrictions on conscientious objection to abortion by doctors and nurses.”
Notably, however, BPAS has vowed to move forward with its efforts, noting Supperstone’s remarks on the Secretary of State’s 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."
“[I]f the law as it stands allows the Secretary of State to approve a woman's home as a ‘class of place’ for abortion then this is what he must do,” stated BPAS Chief Executive Ann Furedi. “We look forward to discussing with Ministers and officials how quickly this can happen.”
According to data from the Office of National Statistics, there were 67,836 medical abortions below 9 weeks gestation in England and Wales in 2009. Such abortions accounted for 48 percent of all early terminations that year, compared to 18 percent in 2002. There were a further 6,531 early medical abortions in Scotland, according to Scotland’s Information Services Division.
In Northern Ireland, where BPAS’s legal challenge would not have applied, abortion is illegal unless the pregnant woman's life is in danger.