Campaigners lose challenge to home abortion pills

15 August 2018, 15:22 | Updated: 15 August 2018, 15:25


A campaign group's legal challenge to the Scottish Government's move to allow pregnant women to take abortion-inducing medication at home has been rejected by a judge.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) Scotland argued the decision by ministers, surrounding the use of the drug misoprostol, was "unlawful" and a threat to women's health.

The pro-life organisation launched a legal challenge at Scotland's highest civil court, with a two-day hearing in the petition for judicial review held in May.

Judge Lady Wise has now ruled the Scottish Government's decision was "not unlawful".

The move has been welcomed by senior medics in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, while SPUC Scotland said it is "extremely disappointed" with the ruling and expects to mount an appeal.

The action came after Scotland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, confirmed in October that she had written to all Scottish health boards to indicate misoprostol could be taken by women outside a clinical setting.

Much of the legal battle at the Court of Session in Edinburgh focused on the requirements of the 1967 Abortion Act.

Counsel for the SPUC argued that home is not a "permissible class" of place for the termination of pregnancy and the guidance was contrary to the legal requirement for abortion to be carried out by a medical practitioner.

The legal team for Scottish ministers challenged those contentions and argued it was perfectly understandable that a woman undertaking such an intimate procedure would want to do so in her own home.

Issuing her ruling on Wednesday, Lady Wise rejected the proposition that a woman's home cannot be a permissible "class of place" in terms of the Act.

She also ruled: "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 added: "I have concluded that the decision of the respondents (Scottish 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 on either of the grounds contended for by the petitioner."

SPUC Scotland said it is already exploring a possible appeal against the ruling.

Chief executive John Deighan said: "We are extremely disappointed that our concerns have not been upheld.

"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.

"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...

"We continue to be alarmed at the Scottish Government's policies to liberalise abortion, this is hard to square with their other commitments on health and human rights."

However, Professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the decision marked "a very significant step forward".

She said: "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.

"Ultimately, it will help to improve women's access to safe and regulated abortion care and take pressure off NHS services.

"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."

Katherine O'Brien, head of policy research at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) also welcomed the ruling.

She said: "Home use is recommended by the World Health Organisation and can spare women the distress of miscarrying on their way home from the clinic.

"We are pleased that women in Scotland will continue to be offered the choice of taking the medication in their own time and in the privacy of their own home."