Women in Wales will be able to take abortion pills at home from today - increasing pressure on the UK government to extend the same right to those in England.
The rule change comes following a consultation between the Welsh government, clinicians and women’s groups and will allow misoprostol, the second set of drugs needed in a medical termination, to be self-administered at home.
Women meeting inclusion criteria will be required to attend a clinic for the administration of mifepristone, the first medication. They will then have the option of being discharged to take the second medication – misoprostol - in their own home.
Wales health secretary Vaughan Gething said: “This change in practice offers additional choice to women requesting an abortion and enables them to complete treatment in an environment where they feel most comfortable.
“It will also reduce the burden currently placed on clinical resources, increase the availability of appointments for women who want to access termination of pregnancy services and enable a greater number of women to access abortion provision at an earlier point in their pregnancy.”
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) welcomed the move, which is already in force in Scotland and is endorsed by the World Health Organisation.
In practice it should mean women do not have to attend multiple, clinically unnecessary appointments and hurry home after taking the pills, risking pain and bleeding en route. It also means they can take the medication at the time that is best for them, in private.
It is for this reason that women using this medication for the treatment of missed miscarriage have long been allowed to use the pills at home.
BPAS, one of the leading providers of terminations, has campaigned for many years for the same rules to be extended to women undergoing early abortion across the UK.
In 2011 it brought a legal challenge to enable women to use misoprostol at home, which failed after being contested by the Department of Health.
Clare Murphy, director of external affairs for the organisation, said: “Wales is introducing safe, evidence-based medical care that will benefit women needing abortion care, and we applaud the Welsh government for moving forward with this simple measure that will mean so much.
“It is now time for the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to ensure women in England can access the same standard of care.
“There is no clinical reason to deny women the option of using this medication at home - it is safe and effective to do so – which means the only grounds for refusing this are political.”
Murphy said it made no sense for BPAS clinics to be unable to offer the same treatment options to women in different geographical areas.
“Our Welsh clinics will now be able to let women go home with the pills to take in their own time, when they feel safe and comfortable, while just a few miles away women will still be compelled to take the pills in the clinic before rushing to get home – often on public transport - before cramping and bleeding begins,” she added.
“We urge Mr Hunt to respect the needs and dignity of women at what can be a challenging time in their lives, and follow his Scottish and Welsh counterparts in authorising home use.
“Home use of misoprostol for early abortion is not controversial – but denying women safe, evidence-based healthcare certainly should be. The power to make this simple change lies with Mr Hunt, and we ask him to use it.”
Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Hull North, who introduced a bill last year to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks in England and Wales, said: “Allowing the home use of misoprostol will ensure that medical abortions are carried out with the maximum dignity for a woman.
“I have heard dreadful stories of women who are currently required to visit a clinic twice and have miscarried on public transport or in public toilets on the way home.
“Scotland has led the way on this and Wales is now recognising this is both clinically the right thing to do and in the interest of women. It’s now time for England to put women’s healthcare needs at the heart of abortion provision.”