Scottish pro-lifers lose appeal of decision allowing self-administered abortion pills
Catholic News Agency
May 24, 2019
A pro-life group in Scotland has, for a second time, lost a legal challenge against the government’s decision last year to allow women to self-administer abortion pills at home.
“We are greatly saddened by this decision. We have been convinced all along that the policy decision by the Chief Medical Officer and Scottish Government was illegal, as well as detrimental to the well-being of women in our country,” said John Deighan, chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland.
“Women should not be facing the mental anguish that accompanies DIY abortions, nor any abortion for that matter. However, those concerns have not been upheld by the judges,” he said.
A three-judge panel ruled against the pro-life group’s appeal May 22, stating that a registered medical practitioner is still responsible for the treatment, whether it takes place in a clinic or in the home, and that even at home “control in the appropriate sense is maintained.”
The Scottish Parliament secured the legal right to govern abortion issues in 2016, and in October 2017 the country’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, told Scottish health boards that misoprostol could be taken outside a clinical setting.
Misoprostol is the second in a two-drug combination used in early abortions; women who have suffered an early miscarriage can take the drug at home to induce labor, while previously women seeking abortions had to take both drugs in a clinical setting.
With the new rules in place, women can take the first of the two drugs, mifepristone, at a clinic, and then 24 to 48 hours later take misoprostol at home.
In November 2017, when plans to permit at-home abortion pill administration were first announced, the Scottish bishops objected that “making abortion easier ignores the disturbing reality that an innocent human life is ended,” the U.K. newspaper The Catholic Herald reports.
SPUC lost its first appeal against the government’s decision in August 2018, but challenged it again this April, arguing in court that the Abortion Act 1967 requires the presence of doctors, nurse, and medical staff.
In addition, the act lays out specific rules for approved places where abortions can take place, and did not intend to allow abortions at home, they said.
Pro-abortion groups backed the change, including Abortion Rights, the Family Planning Association and the Scottish Humanist Society, arguing that “abortion should be treated no differently” than other medical procedures that allow self-administration of drugs at home.
“The move to trivialize abortion is one that harms women and creates an environment where some women are even urged to have an abortion because it does not suit others,” Deighan said, saying the government plan amounts to approving “backstreet abortions.”
Ultimately, the court agreed with the abortion-rights groups’ arguments, endorsing the previous ruling against the appeal.
“We do not accept that the doctor’s control or supervision over the treatment differs in any material way between the situation of taking the tablet within the clinic and then leaving; and that of delaying the taking of the tablet to allow the woman to travel home. Both result in the termination of the pregnancy taking place outside of the clinic,” the three-judge panel wrote, according to the Scottish newspaper The National.
“The reclaimer has been unable convincingly to explain why an outpatient clinic or [general practitioner’s office] would necessarily be a ‘safer’ or more suitable place to take a tablet or pessary than the woman’s home.”
Deighan thanked SPUC’s supporters for making the appeal possible, and reiterated that “women deserve better than abortion.”
“We have always been motivated by concern for the women who undergo abortion as well as our concern for the right to life. But we had hoped that the rule of law would at least hold the aspirations of pro-abortion forces at bay,” Deighan commented.
“It is difficult for us to see how having an abortion at home can possibly satisfy the legal requirement for medical supervision.”
In terms of next steps, taking the case to the UK Supreme Court could be an option, he told reporters.