Judges to consider home abortions appeal

03 April 2019

Lady Dorrian
The appeal was heard by Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian, the second most senior judge in the country, with Lord Menzies and Lord Brodie.

“We hope that the judges will recognise this, and overturn this unlawful, dangerous policy."

The judges of Edinburgh’s Court of Session have now retired to consider their verdict in the case of SPUC Pro-Life Scotland Limited –v- The Scottish Ministers.

Appealing dangerous home abortion policy

SPUC Scotland have been back in Court to appeal Lady Wise’s decision last year to uphold the Scottish Government’s controversial home abortions policy.

SPUC Scotland filed the legal challenge in January 2018, after Scotland's chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, refused to reverse her decision to authorise the taking of misoprostol (the second stage of a medical abortion) outside a clinical setting.

The appeal was heard by the Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian, Lord Menzies and Lord Brodie.

Two major grounds

Over the course of the two day hearing, SPUC’s legal team, led by Morag Ross QC, said the decision to allow abortions at home is flawed in “two fundamental respects” because it approved treatment outwith the presence of a registered medical practitioner and because a pregnant woman’s home is not a “meaningful class of place”.

While the challenge rests on these legal grounds, it is based on concerns that the policy poses a real danger to women’s health. In court, Lord Menzies asked if what SPUC took “exception to is that Scottish ministers do not have the power to allow the second part of the medicine to be taken in an environment where the woman feels most comfortable?” This reflects the argument commonly given by abortion supporters, that allowing the taking of misoprostol at home is a small change, designed only to make women more comfortable.

Real risk to women's health

However, as Ms Ross pointed out, home administration of abortion drugs is not equal to clinical administration in a medical setting, as there is no guarantee that a registered medical professional will be available if anything goes wrong. There is also no way of knowing if a woman’s house is indeed suitable for the procedure.

These fears are backed up by a study from Sweden (which has very good data on abortions) where complication rates for medical abortions doubled in the same time period as home administration became the norm.

SPUC Deputy CEO John Deighan said: “The abortion pill policy trivialises the terrible ordeal that medical abortion inflicts on women and it can now do so in an environment where women self-administer powerful drugs with no proper medical supervision or support.

“At the original hearing our arguments convincingly exposed the unlawfulness of the actions taken by the Scottish Government in contravention of the law,” he continued. “We hope that the judges will recognise this, and overturn this unlawful, dangerous policy."

The verdict is expected in the next three to six months.

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