Page last updated at 12:38 GMT, Wednesday, 7 May 2008 13:38 UK

Plan to increase abortion sites

Image of a woman
Pills are given during two separate visits during medical abortions

A consultation is to be launched over whether to relax abortion rules by allowing terminations outside hospital settings in England, ministers say.

It follows a pilot study which found early abortions using pills rather than surgery could be safely carried out in local health centres.

The government said the findings paved the way for a relaxation in the rules over terminations before nine weeks.

But ministers added NHS staff and patients had to be consulted first.

Our priority is to reduce the time women have to wait for an abortion at what is already a very difficult time for them
Dawn Primarolo, public health minister

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said the government wanted to find out if there was demand for such a move.

"Our priority is to reduce the time women have to wait for an abortion at what is already a very difficult time for them."

Two thirds of abortions are now carried out under 10 weeks up from half in 2002, but access to abortion services is still plagued by delays.

In a medical abortion, a woman normally takes tablets during two separate visits a few days apart.

This can only be carried out at the moment in licensed premises, such as hospitals, approved NHS providers such as Marie Stopes and private clinics.


The pilot compared abortions in a community hospital and health unit, where nurses supervised the women rather than specialist doctors, with three existing sites.

It found that none of the sites were more likely to report complications and the results also suggested that women liked the "informality" and increased availability of support from staff in the pilot sites.

A spokeswoman for Marie Stopes welcomed the move, adding "it would significantly increase the choices available to women facing unplanned pregnancy".

Ann Furedi, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a leading provider of abortions, said: "This report tells us what we have known for many years - early medical abortion is safe, effective and acceptable when it is provided in a whole number of settings."

But Julia Millington, of the Prolife Alliance, said: "Genuine efforts to reduce the number of abortions would be more welcomed by the majority of the population, but the best the government can come up with in the face of escalating abortion figures is quick-fix schemes to speed up the process."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it was unlikely most GP surgeries would meet the standards necessary to provide early medical abortion.

It comes ahead of a debate about abortion later this month.

MPs are expected to propose both the relaxing and tightening of abortion rules in what will be a free vote on the issue.

One suggestion is that the 24-week limit for an abortion should be reduced, possibly to 20 weeks, while pro-choice MPs want to see access eased by scrapping the two-doctor rule needed to get permission for a termination.

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