By Charles Foster
It has been announced that the UK’s biggest abortion provider is taking legal action to make it easier for women to complete the abortion procedure in their own homes.
Women seeking abortion using the drugs misoprostol and RU486 receive two doses of the drugs. After being given the first dose, they go home. They then return to the clinic for the second dose.
If the High Court challenge by BPAS, one of the UK’s leading abortion providers, is successful, this second visit to the clinic will be unnecessary. Women will be given the second dose to take home with them. They will then be able to administer it to themselves. This, says BPAS, will reduce the inconvenience associated with a second trip to the clinic. They say that opponents of the change simply want to make abortion more difficult.
The requirement for the second visit is a consequence of section 1(3) of the Abortion Act 1967. Except in extreme circumstances (specified in subsection 4), ‘any treatment for the termination of pregnancy must be carried out in a hospital vested in the Secretary of State for the purposes of his functions under the National Health Service Act 2006, or the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978, or in a hospital vested in a Primary Care Trust or a National Health Service trust, or an NHS foundation trust, or in a place approved for the purposes of this section by the Secretary of State.’
It would be arguable, from section 1(3), that the woman should be detained in an approved hospital from the time that the first dose was administered until the abortion is complete. After all, on one view, ‘treatment for the termination of pregnancy’ is working in the woman’s uterus continuously from the time of the first dose. But that is not how the law has been read.
BPAS will no doubt contend:
(a) that the woman’s Article 8 right is engaged, that that means she has a prima facie right to have treatment where she chooses to have it, and that the court should strain to read the legislation as consistently as possible with the right; and
(b) that the Secretary of State should honour the Article 8 right by approving the woman’s home as a place that falls within section 1(3); and
(c) that the carrying out of the treatment consists in the prescription and dispensing of the medication.
The BPAS rhetoric obscures the fact that there is no right to abortion in this country or, except where he mother’s life is threatened, in Strasbourg jurisprudence: see A, B and C v Ireland. The 1967 Act simply says that if an abortion is performed under its ambit, then and only then will the abortion not be a criminal offence.
BPAS’s opponents will point to the purposes of section 1(3), one of which is to ensure care of the mother. If the mother can take the second dose unsupervised, the abortion will happen at home, with potentially nasty complications, including psychiatric sequelae.
BPAS is a commercial enterprise. It makes money from abortions. Whatever the legal merits of its application, its contentions about wanting to spare women the trauma of a second bus ride should be viewed with cynicism.