MPs are calling on the new health and social care secretary to allow women in England to take the second pill required for an abortion at home.
In a letter, which has gained cross-party support from more than 50 MPs, Matt Hancock has been urged to remove the restriction, which requires women to take both drugs (mifepristone and misoprostol) at a licensed clinic or hospital.
They say that when women are given the drug in an outpatient service, they have a race against the clock to get home before heavy bleeding and cramping begins.
Last year, the government in Scotland made the decision to allow women to take misoprostol at home. Wales soon followed soon leading to increased pressure on Westminster to allow the same in England.
Hancock’s predecessor, Jeremy Hunt resisted calls to change the law under his tenure.
In the letter, Labour MP Diana Johnson writes that this has put women in England “at a disadvantage” to their counterparts in Scotland and Wales.
The letter, which has been seen by HuffPost UK, reads: “By contrast, in England, women must take the medication that will start their miscarriage before they begin to travel home.
“At this point, the clock starts ticking. Clinics are not always close to where women live – particularly in rural areas, and journeys can be long or subject to unexpected delays, particularly if they are reliant on public transport.
“The result of this is that women can and do begin to miscarry as they travel home – a process that involves painful cramping and heavy bleeding.”
The letter, which was signed by chair of the health select committee and Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston and Labour MPs Jess Phillips, Yvette Cooper, Stella Creasy and Rupa Huq, is also backed by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the UK’s leading provider of abortion care.
Katherine O’Brien, spokeswoman for BPAS told HuffPost UK: “It was very clear that Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to allow women to take this medication in the comfort and privacy of their own homes was an entirely political, not clinical, decision, and rooted in his own personal opposition to abortion rather than any consideration for the health and wellbeing of women.
“We urge our new Health Secretary to listen to the voices of MPs and the medical community and permit the home use of misoprostol. It is safe, effective, and there is no justification for delaying this any further.”
One woman’s account of her experience was included in the letter. She told BPAS: “I had such bad cramps I had to book a hotel on the way home and deal with it there, on the bathroom floor. It was the most traumatic experience of my life to date.
“No women should have to do that, alone and in pain.”
The letter follows a similar call by medical experts, who urged the new health and social care secretary to change the law, saying “the time for action is now”.
In an editorial in a medical journal, the heads of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and the British Society of Abortion Care Providers said that Hancock should follow the example of Scottish and Welsh governments and lift the restrictions.
“There can be no justification not to act unless the aim is to punish women having a legal abortion,” the editorial said.