Beth Redmond, 25, from Merseyside, was in her first year of university when she became pregnant and decided to have an abortion. Miles from home, with no close friends and family nearby, she was forced to pay someone from her course, whom she barely knew, £20 to drive her the 45-minute journey to the abortion clinic, because her doctor had advised her against taking public transport.
As soon as Beth left the clinic her miscarriage symptoms began, she experienced pain and heavy bleeding. “It was like period pain but 10 times worse, and with the added anxiety of being in a near stranger’s car, for 45 minutes,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I crawled from the car to my room and stayed there for a couple of days.”
As we mark the 50th anniversary of abortion being legalised in the UK, 20 groups including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and the Fawcett Society have written a letter to Jeremy Hunt, calling for women to have the right to have an abortion at home. A medical abortion requires a pregnant woman to take one pill, mifepristone, at a hospital or abortion clinic following a consultation, then a second pill, misoprostol, 24 to 48 hours later.
In October 2017, Scotland became the first country in the UK to allow women to take their second abortion pill at home, meaning women won’t risk miscarrying in public. Earlier this month Welsh ministers announced plans to follow suit, but elsewhere in the UK, women are still facing this ordeal.
In England, women like Beth must take both abortion pills under medical supervision in a hospital or clinic, while Northern Ireland’s restrictive laws continue to make abortion only accessible in exceptional circumstances.
Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at (BPAS), tells HuffPost UK symptoms of miscarriage - which can include cramping, bleeding and nausea - usually start about two hours after taking the second medication, but “can and sometimes do start earlier”. “The vast majority of women won’t have this experience, but the possibility of it causes a huge amount of anxiety on an already difficult day,” she says.
Beth would like to see at the at-home rule implemented in Scotland rolled out across the UK. “Being able to take the pills at home would offer an element of independence to what is already a stigmatised procedure - less awkward conversations and having to ask people for help,” she says.
Like Beth, Claudia Craig, 23, from Edinburgh, had “no idea how quickly” the abortion pill she took would take effect. During her 15-minute taxi drive home from the clinic, she “turned pale green and could feel the process starting”.
“I collapsed almost as soon as I got inside and started vomiting and miscarrying on the bathroom floor,” she wrote in an open letter to health ministers. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we had been stuck in traffic for just two minutes longer. Or if, like many women, I couldn’t afford to take a taxi.”
Claudia had an abortion last year before the policy change in Scotland, but she’s now campaigning alongside the Women’s Equality Party to get the law changed in England, too. Since sharing her open letter online, Claudia tells HuffPost UK she’s been “overwhelmed” by the number of women who’ve contacted her to say either they, a friend or family member has experienced miscarriage in public after an abortion.
Claudia says having access to an at-home abortion pill would have made a “huge difference” to her. “It would have meant I could have been at home, next to my bed and a bathroom, where my family and friends could support me,” she says. “I could have gone through this process in my own time, without unnecessary distress, judgement and punishment for exercising my right to choose.”
In light of stories like Beth and Claudia’s, BPAS’s Clare Murphy says home-use of misoprostol for early abortion is “safe, effective and preferred by women” and is calling on Jeremy Hunt to follow Wales and Scotland’s lead. “The only reason to deny women the option of home use is political, not clinical, as this is a safe, evidence-based measure that would improve women’s experience immeasurably at a difficult time,” she says.
The Women’s Equality Party (WEP) agrees the practice of having to take the second abortion pill in a clinic is causing women “unnecessary discomfort and distress while accessing medical treatment”.
The WEP is also calling on the UK Government to take steps to end the “unnecessary trauma that women in Northern Ireland face by having to travel to other parts of the UK to access safe and legal abortions”, adding: “The UK government is responsible for upholding the human rights of Northern Irish women and when it comes to reproductive rights their silence is deafening.”
In response to calls to make at-home abortion pills available across the UK, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson tells HuffPost UK: “Around 180,000 women have an abortion each year in England - our priority is always to ensure that care is safe and high quality. We will continue to monitor the evidence surrounding home-use.”
Commenting on abortion law in Northern Ireland and whether there are any plans to make amendments, a Department of Justice spokesperson tells HuffPost UK: “The law in Northern Ireland is different to other UK jurisdictions. It does not provide for abortion other than where there is a risk to the life or the long term physical or mental health of the woman. As the criminal law is a devolved matter, any change would require the approval of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, which are not currently operational.”