Before the end of 2018, women across England will be able to take the abortive medication used to end pregnancies of 10 weeks or less in the safety and comfort of their own home. The new policy, announced by the UK government, will bring the nation’s reproductive rights laws up to speed with those of Scotland – where home use was legalized in October 2017 – and Wales – who stated a similar plan of action in June.
Despite years of pro-choice campaigning and numerous legal challenges, the abortion laws in Northern Ireland remain extremely strict: A woman can terminate her pregnancy only if a doctor rules that her life is in danger. No other circumstances – including rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities that will result in death soon after birth or lifelong disability – are considered.
A medication-based abortion, also referred to as "the abortion pill", is a process involving two different drugs – mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone (sometimes called RU486), a progesterone blocker, is taken first, followed 6 to 48 hours later by a tablet of the prostaglandin analog misoprostol. Both drugs may terminate a first-trimester pregnancy by causing fetal tissue to detach from the uterus, and were taken independently in the past. However, their efficacy as stand-alone abortive agents is not ideal: about 60 percent for mifepristone and 75 to 85 percent for misoprostol.
But soon after both drugs were introduced in the 1980s, French researchers showed that a combination regimen could be incredibly effective and safe. Under the current protocols supported by the World Health Organization and Planned Parenthood, mifepristone and misoprostol successfully end 98 percent of pregnancies 8 weeks or less and about 92 percent of those 9 to 10 weeks in duration. The rate of major complications is 0.05 percent.
Currently, women in England must take both pills under medical supervision, and may then leave the clinic to pass the pregnancy at home. Yet, as reported by The Guardian, reproductive rights advocates and experts at the Department of Health and Social Care have long argued that this may cause unnecessary stress and trauma for women, given that heavy bleeding may onset when traveling back home, and that difficulties in scheduling and transport may limit access.
Under the new policy, women will be able to take the second pill at home.
“Today’s announcement that use of misoprostol at home will be allowed in England comfortably and a major step forward for women’s healthcare,” stated professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “This simple and practical measure will provide women with significantly more choice and is the most compassionate care we can give them."
"It will also improve access to safe and regulated abortion care and take pressure off NHS services.
In the US, some states allow the second pill to be taken at home, whereas others do not.