Court hearing against Scottish home abortion policy begins
14 May 2018
John Deighan explains how the move by the Scottish Government is unlawful.
"The potential health risks for mothers and their babies are horrific"
SPUC's judicial review against the Scottish Government policy which allows women to carry out DIY abortions at home commences today.
The two day hearing in front of Lady Wise is being held at the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh. SPUC is being represented in court by Morag Ross, QC, who has been involved in numerous high-profile human rights and civil liberties cases.
Very significant case
SPUC Scotland filed the legal challenge in January, 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 decision in this case is likely to have far reaching consequences. Lord O'Shaughnessy recently told the House of Lords that the Westminster government is "not currently in a position to approve homes as a class of place [where abortions can happen] under the [1967 Abortion] Act" but that "we shall look closely at developments in these legal proceedings, as well as any other evidence that arises."
The outcome could also affect moves in Wales to license misoprostol for home use.
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.
Ahead of the hearing, SPUC Scotland CEO John Deighan explained that unlike "hospital" or "GP surgery" there is no set definition of a "home" and no guarantee that the things necessary for an emergency or even basic comfort care (such as running water and a toilet) during the abortion would be available.
"Many people live many miles away from their nearest hospital," he said. "Indeed not only distance but other requirements should be taken into account here such as the availability of ambulance service, availability of someone to drive them to hospital should this be required, the availability of petrol, the hope that nothing goes wrong with the vehicle since there is no objective standard of vehicle, the impossibility of being able to provide any assurance of reaching medical care in a specified time due to traffic, road works, rush hour, congestion, weather difficulties."
Not even first aid required
Mr Deighan also explained the issues with there being no medical supervision to the abortion.
"The proposals call for an adult to be at home with the pregnant lady but how is this check objectively carried out?" he asked. "This could be anyone aged 16 or over and even a 100-year-old unsuitable and incapable of supervising a medical abortion.
"It could foreseeably be the partner - or a pimp - who may have no consideration for the pregnant woman’s care other than the desire that she abort his baby and monitor that this takes place.
"An adult is neither a medical professional nor a registered medical practitioner. There is no requirement for any standard of first aid qualification or medical knowledge in case of emergency or simply for caring for the pregnant woman whilst she suffers the adverse effects of the abortifacient medication."
Health risks horrific
"Our legal advice is clear, and we are confident that the Scottish Government’s decision to give women the abortion pill to take home is not in keeping with the law," he concluded. "The scheme amounts to authorising backstreet abortions. 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."
The case continues.
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