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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 December 2007, 04:03 GMT
GP surgery abortions considered
Abortion pill
The trial focuses on drug-induced abortions
Trials are under way to test whether early abortions could be carried out safely in doctor's surgeries in England, the government has confirmed.

The Department of Health (DoH) said the trials at two undisclosed locations were evaluating the "safety and effectiveness" of such services.

The pilot is for drug-induced abortions up to the ninth week of pregnancy.

Currently, abortions can be carried out only at NHS hospitals or certain clinics with two doctors' approval.

The results of the trials - reported in Pulse magazine - are expected next year, but the DoH said it had not yet taken a decision on whether to allow abortions in GP surgeries.

I am certainly in favour of women always having choice in terms of where they can have a procedure
Phil Willis
Commons Science and Technology Committee

It would consider the findings of the trial "carefully" before reaching a conclusion, it said.

"We are formally evaluating the safety and effectiveness of providing early medical abortion services in non-traditional settings, which in future, could be a community medical setting such as a doctor's surgery which has the appropriate medical expertise," the DoH said in a statement.

"The evaluation will be complete in the New Year and we will consider the results carefully before reaching a decision."

The trials have been taking place with no publicity at two facilities - a community hospital and a stand-alone unit within an acute hospital.

They are piloting the provision in "non-traditional settings" of early medical abortions, which involve taking two tablets under medical supervision.

Nurse involvement

In October, the Commons Science and Technology Committee called for a relaxation of rules surrounding terminating pregnancies.

Now is not a time to be liberalising abortion
Bob Spink
Commons Science and Technology Committee

The group of MPs said there was no reason why women seeking an abortion needed the approval of two doctors.

They wanted to see more involvement by nurses in carrying out all stages of early medical abortions.

The committee also recommended that just one doctor sign the required consent form, rather than the two currently required by the Abortion Act.

Phil Willis, the committee chairman, said: told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I am certainly in favour of the trials going ahead and I am certainly in favour of women always having choice in terms of where they can have a procedure, particularly if it is safe and meets good care guidelines."

He acknowledged abortions in GP clinics or other non-traditional settings would be cheaper than those carried out in hospitals, but added: "I don't believe the Department of Health is conducting these trials to reduce costs."

Opposition

But Bob Spink, a Conservative member of the committee, opposed the idea. He said the government should wait for MPs to discuss proposed abortion reforms before pressing ahead.

He said the number of abortions was growing, and now was not the right time to be liberalising access.

"What we need to be doing is giving more support and understanding to women who are in a terrible dilemma," he said.

"Lets think about the GPs who you are asking to take life. Many of those have ethical and moral objection to doing that - it puts them in a terrible position, and destroys the relationship between doctor and patient."

Julia Millington, of the ProLife Alliance, said: "What we are seeing here is liberalisation of the law by stealth, which is gravely concerning."

But Ann Furedi, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: "Offering more localised care for women needing an abortion makes absolute sense."

In 2006 there were almost 200,000 abortions in England and Wales with a further 13,000 in Scotland.

The vast majority were early abortions - 89% were carried out before 13 weeks and just 2% after 20 weeks.

Of abortions carried out under 10 weeks, 66.4% in Scotland and 36.7% in England and Wales were drug-induced.



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