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Wales introduces home abortions

29 June 2018

Taking the pill at home poses serious threats to women's health.

SPUC's court case could soon prove it illegal 

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething has announced that the second abortion pill will be made available for women to take at home.

In a written statement, Mr Gething said: "Members will recall my announcement on 17 April of my instruction to officials to begin work to amend the legal framework to allow the treatment of the termination of pregnancy (TOP) to be carried out at home. I am pleased to inform you that the approval, allowing the second dose of medicine for TOP to be carried out at home, has been issued to health boards today."

Is this legal?

It is unclear on what grounds Mr Gething has made the policy change, as the Welsh Government does not have the power to amend the 1967 Abortion Act. (The link to the written notice issued to health boards was broken at the time of writing.)

In Scotland, the Government claimed that it did not need to change the law to designate the home as a place where abortion could take place, although this is currently being challenged by a judicial review brought by SPUC Scotland. In Westminster, a Government minister recently replied to a question saying: "abortions must be performed under the legal framework set by the Abortion Act 1967. We are not currently in a position to approve homes as a class of place under the Act."

Incredibly rash and high-handed

While the Westminster Government has said it is looking closely at developments in the Scottish court case, the Welsh Assembly has not mentioned it, a fact noted by SPUC Scotland CEO John Deighan. 

"There is an ongoing judicial review in Scotland which is examining whether the provision of the abortion pill at home is compatible with the 1967 Abortion Act," he said. "It seems incredibly rash and high-handed to ignore the process in Scotland. It seems that when it comes to the issue of abortion reason and common sense completely escape some political representatives. Can they really not wait a few weeks to learn if the policy they wish to implement is actually legal?"

Authorising backstreet abortions

SPUC's challenge rests on two major grounds: firstly, that the home is not an approved place for abortions to take place, and secondly, that the Act demands the presence of medical, nursing or clinical staff during a procedure.

"It is clear to us that the policy of allowing abortion pills to be taken at home is not compatible with the 1967 Abortion Act," said Mr Deighan. "Furthermore, we believe that such a scheme amounts, in effect, to authorising backstreet abortions. Such a move not only poses dreadful health risks for many women, but trivialises the rights and lives of their babies."

The move was welcomed by abortion provider bpas, and Diana Johnson, the Labour MP who is pushing to decriminalise abortion. The Royal College of Midwives, whose head controversially signed the organisation up to support decriminalisation in 2016, said it was a "sensible and practical move".

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