Judge throws out legal challenge to stop at-home abortion pill

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) Scotland has lost its legal challenge to the Scottish Government's move to allow pregnant women to take abortion-inducing medication at home.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian GeorgesonThe Court of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The Court of Session in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The campaign group argued that the decision by ministers, over the use of the drug misoprostol, was “unlawful” and a threat to women’s health and that of their unborn babies.

It launched a legal challenge at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, with a full hearing held in May.

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Issuing her ruling on Wednesday, judge Lady Wise wrote: “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.”

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The SPUC has vowed to appeal against the ruling.

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, confirmed in October last year that she had written to all Scottish health boards indicating that misoprostol could be taken by women outside a clinical setting, under plans using powers available within the Abortion Act 1967.

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

The legal team for Scottish ministers challenged those arguments and maintained that it was perfectly understandable that a woman undertaking a personal and intimate procedure would wish to do so in her own home.

In her ruling, Lady Wise concluded: “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.”

John Deighan, chief executive of SPUC Scotland, 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.

“We will give thorough consideration of the judgement but at the forefront of our thoughts is the expectation that we will appeal the decision.”

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He added: “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.”

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.”