Court upholds Scottish Govt’s decision to allow women to take abortifacient at home

SPUC “extremely disappointed that our concerns have not been upheld”

By Dave Andrusko

SPUC Scotland CEO John Deighan

Following a two day hearing in May that took place at Edinburgh’s Court of Sessions, Judge Lady Wise has ruled that the Scottish Government’s decision to allow women to take the abortifacient drug misoprostol at home is “not unlawful.” Misoprostol is the second drug of the two-drug RU-486 abortion technique.

“As a generality, it seems to me that patients who self-administer medication at home may still be described as being treated by their medical practitioner who remains in charge of that treatment,” Lady Wise said in her ruling. “I have concluded that the decision of the respondents (Scottish Government ministers) to approve a woman’s home as a place where one stage of the termination of pregnancy can be carried out is not unlawful.”

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), which brought the legal challenge, said “discussions have already begun with legal representatives as to the next steps.” SPUC took legal action in January when Dr. Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s chief medical officer, refused to reverse her decision.

The abortion provider BPAS welcomed the ruling as did the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

“It will allow women to avoid the distress and embarrassment of bleeding and pain during their journey home from an unnecessary second visit to a clinic or hospital,” said Professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “Ultimately, it will help to improve women’s access to safe and regulated abortion care and take pressure off NHS services.”

Prof. Reagan quickly called for an expansion. “In light of this decision, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists urges the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to extend the same dignity and compassion to women in England.”

John Deighan, chief executive of SPUC Scotland, said, “We are extremely disappointed that our concerns have not been upheld.” He added, “We maintain the belief that our arguments convincingly exposed the unlawfulness of the actions taken by the Scottish Government which are in contravention of the law.”

He slammed what he described as the Scottish Government’s “lax attitude towards abortion.”

“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.”

There were two major grounds that SPUC’s challenge rested upon:

firstly, that the home is not an approved place for abortions to take place, and secondly, that the Abortion Act demands the presence of medical, nursing or clinical staff during a procedure. Lady Wise rejected the arguments on both grounds.

“Our position remains the same despite this judgement,” Mr. Deighan said. “For the sake of women’s health and the universal right to life we cannot stand idly by whilst such a detrimental measure is implemented in the name of health care.”

SPUC warned that the decision “is likely to have far reaching consequences”:

Lord O’Shaughnessy recently told the House of Lords that the 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.