England’s abortion law ‘out of step’ with Scotland and Wales

Abortion law in England is “no longer fit for purpose”, experts have said.

The president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), along with other leading reproductive health experts, has argued that the legislation governing abortion across the UK is “fragmented”.

They said England is “out of step” with Wales and Scotland when it comes to allowing women to take abortion pills at home.

Pills for early medical abortion are most effective when they are taken between 24 hours and 48 hours apart, they wrote.

In Scotland, and soon in Wales, misoprostol – the second pill – can be taken in the woman’s home, but in England it must be administered within a licensed hospital or clinic, according to the editorial, published in the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health.

The heads of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, and the British Society of Abortion Care Providers said there is “strong evidence” that using these drugs at home rather than in hospital is safe, preferred by women, and does not increase abortion rates.

They said that when the Abortion Act 1967 came into force, early medical abortion with the two drugs – mifepristone and misoprostol – did not exist and therefore the Act “makes no provision for this method”.

“Abortion legislation in the British Isles is fragmented and no longer fit for purpose,” wrote Professor Lesley Regan, Dr Asha Kasliwal, Dr Jonathan Lord, and colleagues.

They added: “English practice is out of step with other countries, including Scotland and soon Wales, by requiring women to attend licensed premises (hospital or clinic) for the administration of both drugs on site.”

They called on the Government to lift the restriction for women in England.

“We urge the Secretary of State for Health to use his powers to extend to women in England the same compassion, respect, and dignity that the Scottish and Welsh Governments have announced, so that all women can access safe, effective abortion care,” they wrote.

“There can be no justification not to act unless the aim is to punish women having a legal abortion. The time for action is now.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Around 180,000 women have an abortion each year in England – our priority is always to ensure that care is safe and high quality.

“We will continue to monitor the evidence surrounding home use and will await the outcome of the judicial review in Scotland.”

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