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EDITIONS
Sunday, 7 July, 2002, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Abortion plans 'irresponsible'
One brand of
Easing access to "abortion pills" could cut waiting times
New pilot schemes offering faster, easier abortions have been attacked by opponents as "irresponsible" and "morally questionable".

The plans, which aim to reduce wide regional variations in waiting times for women seeking abortions, will include allowing some family planning centres to offer the "abortion pill".

Also known as medical abortion, this method of termination avoids surgery and up to now has only been available in hospitals and special day units.


It is right that women have control over their fertility and the ability to make choices about their reproductive health.

Anne Weyman
Family Planning Association
Pro-life campaigners have accused the government of increasing pressure on women to have abortions and Conservative party deputy leader Michael Ancram has condemned the move as "morally questionable".

But supporters of the move say once women have made the decision to have an abortion, it should be done as quickly and easily as possible.

Variations in waiting times for abortions can range from two weeks in some areas to six to eight weeks in others, according to the Department of Health (DoH).

Reducing the waiting time is generally agreed to decrease the risk of physical and psychological damage.

But Paul Tully, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the move could put further pressure on women.

Cheaper

"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."

Pro-Life Alliance spokeswoman Josephine Quintavalle said the government was motivated by the money-saving potential of increasing use of the "abortion pill".

Woman taking mifepristone
Government says medical abortion is 'less traumatic'
"You save a lot of money not using anaesthetics. It is quicker, easier and cheaper," she said.

This was denied by the DoH spokesman, who said: "Using the medical abortion just means people do not have to have surgery.

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

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.

'Obsessed'

The charity Life said the move raises questions about the long-term consequences on women's health and fertility.

Nuala Scarisbrick, of the charity Life, said: "This has nothing to do with women's rights. In fact the total opposite is true. This new initiative will only cause more pain and misery to thousands of women in the UK.

"All abortion is horrible. But this DIY method is the most horrible of all, because self-administered - and because the woman aborts at home.

"She will often suffer acute pain and nausea, and have to dispose of the corpse.

The Family Planning Association welcomed the proposed scheme.

Its chief executive, Anne Weyman said: "The current inequality of access to medical abortion is ludicrous."

Liz Davies from leading the family planning organisation, Marie Stopes International, said the move would not mean an increase in abortions.


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

DoH
"The reasons for having an abortion are dictated by a woman's personal circumstances rather than the access issue," she said.

The Liberal Democrats said it supported medical abortions so long as they were "safe and effective".

Only family planning centres located in hospital trust premises will be able to offer the procedure and patients will still be required to obtain certification from two doctors before the treatment takes place.

The DOH also rejected claims that abortions would eventually be available in GP surgeries and would be "impossible to track".

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Christine Stewart
"Any new measures would fall within existing laws"
Marie Stopes International's Liz Davies
"It will not mean more abortions"
Health Minister Hazel Blears
"It is important that a range of options are available"

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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