The British Pregnancy Advisory Services (BPAS) has lost a bid in the High Court to relax current laws which state that women seeking an early medical abortion (EMA), must take both the first and second tablet under supervision in hospital or other medical premises. BPAS lawyers said women suffer unnecessary anxiety about miscarrying on the way home from the clinic after the second round of tablets, especially if they had to travel long distances and/or use public transport. Cramping and bleeding to bring about a miscarriage usually begins one to two hours after the second dose but can start sooner in some cases. The abortion is usually completed within four to six hours.
The judge had to decide on the meaning of the words "any treatment for the termination of pregnancy" under Section 1(3) of the Abortion Act 1967 (as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990) (the Act), and whether they covered both the prescription and the administration of the drugs used in abortion. The judge upheld the Government's interpretation that the administration of both sets of abortion tablets amounted to "treatment" which must be carried out by a "registered medical practitioner" on premises approved under the Act.
The Act does make it clear that it is the Secretary of State, not the medical profession, who has the responsibility for approval of the place where the treatment may take place. The judge recognised that BPAS were in effect seeking to remove the need for Secretary of State approval of approved designated approved places and said that this was directly contrary to Parliament's clear intention. However, it is within the Health Secretary's powers to approve a wider range of place where an abortion could take place including, potentially, the home.
BPAS Chief Executive, Ann Furedi, said: "BPAS will pursue its case to provide an early medical abortion service that is based on evidence and best international practice".
BPAS did say that it was at the same time "very pleased" that the judge had ruled that section 1(3A) of the Act enabled the Secretary of State to react to "changes in medical science", and approve "a wider range of place" for abortions.