The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), one of the UK's largest abortion providers and promoters, asked the court to rule that under the Abortion Act women may take drugs designed to cause an abortion at home, rather than in hospital. At present the drugs, which must be prescribed by a doctor, have to be administered in a hospital or a registered clinic.
Mr Justice Supperstone reserved the judgment until a later date.
Paul Tully, SPUC's general secretary, submitted evidence on behalf of SPUC and was at the High Court in London. Commenting after the hearing, he said:
"One of the main concerns with the practice of ‘bedroom abortion’ is about safety. It is well established that drug-induced abortion has a high rate of incomplete abortion and other immediate complications like haemorrhage. These are serious safety concerns.Commenting on the case, Katherine Hampton of SPUC added:
“Equally worrying to us are the impact the case could have on nurses. We asked the court to note that if BPAS’s wish is granted, it could seriously undermine the right of nurses not to take part in abortions. BPAS argued that administering abortion drugs is not ‘treatment’ for an abortion (so it can be done anywhere). If the court accepted that argument, those nurses who object to abortion could lose the statutory right to refuse to give abortion drugs.
“BPAS argued that taking abortion drugs at home is safe, and should therefore be permitted. However, it displayed a disturbing lack of knowledge about the way abortion drugs work. For example, it asserted that the second drug used in the typical two-stage chemical abortion process, will not cause an abortion when used on its own. This is incorrect. Either of the drugs can cause an abortion. They are used together to try to reduce the number of incomplete abortions and severe side effects.”
“Every abortion destroys a baby and hurts a mother: if BPAS wins this case, women may think there is a ‘safe’ route to abortion. That could lead to more abortions, and more dead babies and more suffering for women. The significance of this case is important internationally too, as chemical abortions are widely promoted in poorer countries, and any move to widen the practice here may adversely affect unborn babies and women around the world."Some facts about RU486 and misoprostol:
- The woman is directly involved in the abortion by having to take the pills herself.
- The nature of the drug means that the woman must live with her abortion over the course of a number of days. The president of Roussel Uclaf, the original makers of RU486, said “The woman must live with this for a full week. This is an appalling psychological ordeal”. (Edouard Sakiz, chairman, Roussel-Uclaf, August 1990)
- The woman may abort at home and suffer the distress of seeing the expelled embryo/foetus, which she is required to keep and return to the hospital or clinic to help determine if the abortion is complete. If BPAS's challenge is successful, women taking misoprostol would go into labour at home. This can be very distressing as labour, usually associated with child-birth, now becomes associated with the delivery of a dead child.
- Use of RU486/misoprostol may cause any of the following: haemorrhage requiring blood transfusion, severe pain requiring strong pain killers, incomplete abortion, rupture of the uterus, vaginal bleeding, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, muscle weakness, dizziness, flushing, chills, backache, difficulty in breathing, chest pain, palpitations, rise in temperature and fall in blood pressure. The number and diverse nature of the side effects of RU486/misoprostol point to the fact that these are powerful chemicals.
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