Abortion Rights Vice Chair and Lawyers for Choice member in Glasgow analysed the challenge made by SPUC and the ruling.
In November 2017, the Scottish Government issued guidance designating a woman’s home as a place where the second abortion pill could be taken.
By way of background, the abortion pill consists of two medicines. The first medicine ends the pregnancy and the second medicine, misoprostol, passes the pregnancy (similar to miscarriage).
Having been challenged through the Court, last week, the Scottish Government’s decision was upheld. This is a significant victory for women’s healthcare and will ensure more equal access to services for women across Scotland.
The decision to make the second abortion pill available for home administration was a progressive move and one which is in line with modern medicine.
Prior to this change in the law women were required to attend the hospital to be provided with the first pill and then sent home. Then a return visit the next day for the second pill to be administered and then sent back home again. Clearly this posed significant financial and geographical barriers to women’s access.
As with any progressive change around this issue, it was – and will continue to be – fought tooth and nail by those anti-choice organisations who do not believe in a woman’s right to choose what happens over her own body.
The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) were the challengers on this occasion. In Court their arguments were technical, seeking to interpret the Abortion Act 1967 (AA67) in a way that did not take women’s circumstances into account.
Firstly, that a woman’s home is not a permissible class of place for the purposes of the legislation and secondly that it runs counter to the requirement in the legislation that abortion be carried out by a medical practitioner.
Both grounds were roundly rejected by the Judge in her determination.
In relation to the first argument the Court noted that SPUC’s arguments, “tended, in my view, to ignore or at least underplay that the woman’s wish to take the misoprostol at home”.
Recent research has demonstrated just how traumatic the requirement to return to the hospital to be watched swallowing a pill can be, with examples of abortions commencing on public transport on the way back home.
Such barbaric practices have no place in a modern Scotland.
In relation to the second, the Judge likened the women taking the abortion pill to that of all patients who self-administer medication at home stating that they, “may still be described as being treated by their medical practitioner who remains in charge of that treatment”. The example of an insulin dependent diabetic requiring to self-administer the insulin prescribed to them regularly at home, but doing so under the direction of their doctor and would ordinarily be described as receiving treatment from that doctor regardless of a lack of physical presence by the practitioner in the same building or even in the locality.
It was determined that taking the second abortion pill at home was not contrary to being under medical treatment and SPUC’s case therefore failed on both grounds.
At Abortion Rights this is a victory for common sense but also provides helpful clarity on the law on this aspect of the Abortion Act 1967.
However, unsurprisingly SPUC’s allegedly reasonable concerns of the wording of the Abortion Act 1967 being pursued through the Courts are completely blown away by the myths and stereotyping contained with their press releases on the issue.
References to “DIY” abortions, alleged risks to women’s health and the purported “trivialising of abortion” make it clear that this is just another, tired and desperate attempt to restrict a woman’s right to choose.
Despite the anti-choice propaganda this change brings Scots law in line with the United States, France and Sweden who allow women to take abortion pills at home. It is a clinically safe and well tested procedure. In addition it is important to remember that this exact procedure is already carried out in Scotland, by only following miscarriage.
So, surprise surprise, SPUC are making a judgment about what women can have this procedure, and in what circumstances and what women cannot.
SPUC’s arguments regarding the safety of the abortion pill are not backed up by evidence or those experts practising in the field. See Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, on Newsnight last night forensically destroying SPUC’s John Deigan on the issue.
And, it should be known that if SPUC had their way abortion would be banned for all women, meaning that women would resort to the backstreet abortions of the past. Women would die. That is not being pro-life. That is simply anti women. So you’ll excuse us if we scoff at their alleged concern for women’s health.
Progress was made last week. Women’s healthcare improved. Slowly but surely we are dragging abortion law into the 21st century.
SPUC will no doubt continue their campaign, but as they do their credibility with both the Courts and the public continues to plummet.
Jillian Merchant, Abortion Rights Vice Chair and Lawyers for Choice Member