UK Govt "looking closely" at SPUC's legal challenge to home abortions in Scotland
21 March 2018
Lord O'Shaughnessy referenced SPUC's legal challenge to the Scottish government's plans
The full hearing will take place on May 14 and 15
SPUC's legal challenge to the Scottish Government's plan to designate the home as a place the abortion pill can be taken will have implications for the whole of the UK, it emerged yesterday.
On the day that the first hearing in the case for judicial review took place, Lord O'Shaughnessy, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care, said that the Government will "look closely at developments in these legal proceedings."
Outside the Abortion Act
In response to a question from Baroness Watkins of Tavistock on "why there are no plans to enable women undergoing early medical abortion to take the second dose of the medication, misoprostol, at home, if they so wish," Lord O'Shaughnessy replied that "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."
When Baroness Thornton argued that women in Norway, France and now Scotland, can take misoprostol at home, he pointed out that other countries do not have to act under the auspices of the 1967 Abortion Act.
SPUC's challenge critical
"The Scottish Government have made that decision, but the noble Baroness will know that it is subject to a dispute and that a judicial review has been brought against it by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), which is obviously testing the legality of the Scottish Government and their powers to act," he continued. "We shall look closely at developments in these legal proceedings, as well as any other evidence that arises."
Although Lord O'Shaughnessy's answers confirmed that the Government does not consider that the law allows for abortion pills to be taken at home, his promise to "keep this matter under review and assess further evidence" shows how important SPUC's legal challenge is.
Yesterday, lawyers for SPUC and the Scottish Government appeared before Lady Wise in the Court of Session in Edinburgh. She ordered a full hearing to take place on May 14 and 15.
SPUC's QC, Morag Ross, who has been involved in numerous high-profile human rights and civil liberties cases, told her that the legal arguments hinge on the interpretation of the relevant primary legislation, the 1967 Abortion Act. 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.
Abortion pills harm women
However, John Deighan, CEO of SPUC Scotland said that while he is confident on the legal grounds, the real concern is the damage allowing home abortions will do to women. "We believe the government scheme amounts to authorising backstreet abortions. And that is not being alarmist it is a simple fact.
"The potential health risks for mothers and their babies are horrific. There would be no medical oversight and this development will result in dreadful threats to women’s health."
Some of these threats were raised in the House of Lords, as Baroness Eaton pointed out that physical complications after medical abortion are four times higher than surgical, and Baroness Masham asked what research was being done into the psychological affects of undergoing an abortion at home.
However, abortion advocates are denying that there are any dangers associated with the abortion pill. In a radio debate with John Deighan, Jillian Merchant of Abortion Rights insisted that it was also safe, and denied that there of any instances of women being coerced into abortion.
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