A ruling is expected to be issued from the high court that could make it easier for pregnancy terminations to be completed at home.
Mr Justice Supperstone has been asked by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service to rule that the 1967 abortion act permits women to take the second of two doses of tablets for an early medical abortion without having to go to medical premises.
Current procedures mean that both doses must be administered in a clinic or hospital under supervision, with most women going home under the second dose. Health secretary Andrew Lansley claims all tablets must be taken on clinical premises, according to law.
However, Nathalie Lieven argued for the BPAS at a recent hearing at the high court in London that “medical science has moved on a great deal”, allowing women to take the second dose themselves safely in the comfort of their own home.
The US, France and Sweden all allow women to safely complete their terminations without repeated visits to a clinic and the BPAS claims that early medical abortions of under nine weeks - which number about 70,000 each year - should be allowed to be carried out at home.
Women are usually given one mifepristone tablet on their first visit and are told to return to the clinic 24 to 48 hours later. They then receive a dose of four tablets (misoprostol), which are usually inserted vaginally, can be swallowed or are dissolved under the tongue or between the cheek and the gum.
Cramping and bleeding to bring about a miscarriage usually begins one to two hours after this dose but can start sooner in some cases. The abortion is usually completed within four to six hours.
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