Chantell Burrows (Blog Editor)
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has failed in a bid to secure a change in the way women complete drug-induced early abortion. Early abortion involves the taking of two pills; in many countries the second of these is taken in the home to improve comfort for women. Despite calls from the Bpas to ensure this is also the case in England and Wales, a judge recently ruled that all pills involved in the process must be taken in a clinic, unless is stipulated otherwise by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary.
Reported in the Guardian, Bpas lawyers argued ‘that wording relating to the prescription and administration in a clinic of drugs needed to bring about a medical abortion – two pills, taken 24-48 hours apart – could be defined as the prescription and issuing of the medication, allowing women to go home after the first visit.’ It has been found by Bpas that requiring two visits is problematic for women who live a considerable distance away from their clinic who fear they may miscarry on their journey home.
The judge presiding over the Bpas challenge, Mr Justice Supperstone, was reluctant to interpret the law in this manner, suggesting that this was a matter primarily for Parliament, not the judiciary. Sarah Boseley for the Guardian notes that the ‘judge effectively put the onus back with the government, ruling that the 1967 Abortion Act, as amended in 1990, enables the secretary of state to react to “changes in medical science” as it gives the health minister “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”.
Writing in the Guardian today, Sophia Collins argues that critics of the proposal to allow women to complete drug-induced abortion in the home just want ‘bad women’ to suffer. She discusses the differences between drug-induced and spontaneous miscarriage (as both women are given the same drug to clear the womb). Collins argues that women who take this medication as part of the abortion process are not permitted to recuperate in their own homes amongst family, friends, and comfort because these ‘bad women should suffer, in shame, while the others don’t have to.’ She continues that the reason behind this is due to cries of anti-abortion protestors overbearing those of women who experience abortion. Her simple and effective observations make it clear that abortion debate is often obscured, with several key issues dismissed; for example how the woman feels, and how she thinks of what might have been. Much of contemporary abortion debate centres upon fetus rights and viability, often to the neglect of those who are truly at the centre of the debate – women. Collins demands that the abortion process shouldn’t be any more traumatic than is necessary, and she’s right. It is reported in the Daily Mail that ‘[p]ro-life campaigners say Bpas’s intention is to make abortion ‘little more than a pill-popping exercise’. But I argue that this trivializes abortion – suggesting it is analogous to ‘pill-popping’ is disrespectful to those women who wish to undergo their termination in a supportive environment, The focus for government should not be about the medicalisation of women’s reproductive choices; instead it should be about ‘access to information’ and support to control their own fertility.
The onus has been effectively placed back with government to take action on this issue and it is now for Mr Andrew Lansely to take action in this area and listen to Bpas. Ann Furedi, the Chief Executive of Bpas makes it clear that they will not relent on this issue. She says, ‘Women deserve this, and we would be failing as a charity if we failed to advocate for the services women need’. Women deserve to decide how and when they deal with their bodies. In England and Wales there continues to be no automatic legal right to abortion and women must depend on the consent of two doctors prior to treatment. This lack of reproductive autonomy for women to govern their bodies and reproductive choices continues to be problematic. If the current law allows women to take prescribed medication in their home as a class of ‘place’ then Andrew Lansely must listen to the voices of women and act upon this. He must allow women to govern their reproductive choices in a step towards making abortion about women and for women amidst complex abortion debates.