The UK Government has announced its intention to legalise the home use of early abortion pills by the end of the year.
The new plans mean that women in England will soon be able to take the second of two early abortion pills at home, instead of in a clinic, in a move which has been widely recognised as a milestone in women’s rights.
Why legalise abortion pills at home?
Women seeking to end a pregnancy in its first ten weeks are currently required to take both mifepristone and misoprostol at a clinic 24-48 hours apart. After taking the latter pill, they leave the clinic and pass the pregnancy at home.
However, these two visits can be difficult to organise and are often uncomfortable or traumatic. In some cases, women can begin to miscarry before arriving home.
Under the new plans, women will be free to decide whether they want to take misoprostol in the clinic or in the comfort of their own home.
Because 80% of terminations are early medical abortions, i.e. they are carried out under ten weeks gestation, the majority of women seeking abortions will benefit from being allowed to take early abortion pills at home.
How have the experts responded?
Professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), welcomed the announcement as a “major step forward for women’s healthcare”.
She said: “This simple and practical measure will provide women with significantly more choice and is the most compassionate care we can give them.
“It will allow women to avoid distress and embarrassment of bleeding and pain during their journey home from an unnecessary second visit to a clinic or hospital. It will also improve access to safe and regulated abortion care and take pressure off NHS services.”
Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, added: “Abortion can be a difficult experience, so it is important that women feel safe and as comfortable as possible. This decision will increase choice for women and help ensure they receive safe and dignified care.”
How will the change work in practice?
The Department of Health and Social Care has said it will work closely with partners in the health system to implement the new plans quickly and safely. In the first instance, it will work alongside RCOG to develop clinical guidance for all professionals to follow when providing the treatment option to patients.
Safeguards will also be introduced to protect women taking early abortion pills at home.
However, the new plans are not expected to change the way women are assessed and treated for a termination. All women seeking an early medical abortion will be given the usual checks, including the criteria under the Abortion Act.