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EDITIONS
Sunday, 7 July, 2002, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Abortion access to be made easier
morning after pill
'Abortion pills' to be more widely available
Women are to be offered faster, easier abortions in a series of pilot schemes across the country.

The Department of Health (DoH) has confirmed that some family planning centres will for the first time be able to offer the so-called "abortion pill".

The pill, which avoids the need for surgery, has so far been available only in hospital wards and special day units.

Medical abortion
Mifepristone tablet taken
Blocks hormone needed to make a fertilised egg cling to the womb lining
Second drug taken 48 hours later
Triggers contractions which cause foetus to be lost
Ministers believe the so-called "medical abortion" will reduce distressing waits of up to five weeks to end a pregnancy, but the move has angered pro-life groups.

They have accused the government of "cost-cutting" and being "obsessed" with abortion.

"You save a lot of money not using anaesthetics," said Pro-Life Alliance spokeswoman Josephine Quintavalle.

"It is quicker, easier and cheaper - I would put cheaper in very big capitals."

'Distressing'

Nuala Scarisbrick, of the charity Life, said the move "dupes women into thinking it's as easy as going and having you hair colour changed".


Having less time to think about it... can actually make her [a woman] feel more pressured and more distressed

Paul Tully, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children
And Paul Tully, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said the government was being irresponsible.

"A wait before an abortion is not necessarily a distressing consideration, especially when abortions are often undertaken under enormous pressure and at great apprehension on the part of the woman," he said

"It is often the last thing a woman wants to do and in some instances, having less time to think about it and reflect can actually make her feel more pressured and more distressed."

However, Liz Davies from leading the family planning organisation, Marie Stopes International, welcomed the move.

"Women can spend as much time as they need thinking about whether they want an abortion. But once they have made that decision then it should be done as soon as possible," she said.

Controls

"It won't mean more abortions. The reasons for having an abortion are dictated by a woman's personal circumstances rather than the access issue."


It is not a case that the drug will be on the high street

DoH
Medical abortion works in two stages: first women are given a tablet of the drug mifepristone, which blocks a hormone needed to make a fertilised egg cling to the womb lining.

After 48 hours, patients are given a dose of a different drug triggering contractions and bleeding and causing the foetus to be lost.

It is said to be mildly uncomfortable and similar to period pains.

The DoH said it was offering greater options to eliminate the wide variations in waiting times for abortions across the country, which can range from two weeks to eight weeks elsewhere.

If a woman is to have a termination, the risks of suffering physical or psychological damage are reduced the earlier it is carried out.

The DoH says strict controls will still apply when the scheme is launched, initially with a series of pilot projects.

'Less traumatic'

Only family planning clinics located in hospital trust premises will be able to offer the procedure.

Patients will also still be required to obtain certification from two doctors before they can go ahead.

A DoH spokesman said: "It will still take place within the current legal framework. It is not a case that the drug will be on the high street."

He denied the move was led by a desire to cut costs, saying "using the medical abortion just means people do not have to have surgery".

"Currently 81% have surgery, if they do not need to it makes things quicker and less traumatic."

But Tory party deputy leader Michael Ancram condemned the move as "morally questionable".

"Personally I am against it because I think that anything that makes abortion easier and simpler, in the end is harmful to people," he told Sky News's Sunday with Adam Boulton programme.

"Anything which makes it that much easier is, I think, in the end socially damaging as well as, in my view, morally questionable."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jane Warr
"The drug will be regulated under the existing legal framework"
Marie Stopes International's Liz Davies:
"It will not mean more abortions"
Anti-abortion campaigner Paul Tully
"The pressures to undergo abortions are well known"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Should women be offered greater access to abortions?Abortion pill
Should it be made more widely available?
See also:

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29 Nov 99 | Medical notes
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