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bpas comment on “Barriers to accessing abortion services and perspectives on using mifepristone and misoprostol at home in Great Britain” published online in Contraception

Study documents 519 women from England, Scotland and Wales contacting Women On Web seeking abortion medication over a 4 month period (Nov 2016 to March 2017)

This important study gives unprecedented insight into the numbers of women now turning online to access abortion services, and their reasons for doing so. The study illustrates that even in Great Britain, where abortion is lawful and funded, there will be many women who are unable to access services. They may be women experiencing domestic violence, facing long waiting times, or who are not eligible for NHS funded care.  The fact that the current interpretation of our laws prevents women from using the medication for early medical abortion at home, once lawfully prescribed by a doctor to a woman who meets the terms of the Abortion Act, is clearly creating significant obstacles to care. It means women must sometimes attend multiple appointments –a huge challenge for women with work and childcare responsibilities, or without transport. It comes as no surprise to see the difficulties accessing early medical abortion reflected in women’s testimony. 

Women on Web does not supply women in Britain with abortion pills, but we know that abortion medication is widely available online. Recent data from the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) showed that the number of abortion pills seized in Britain has increased dramatically in recent years, from just 5 pills in 2013 to 375 in 2016. Under laws dating back to 1861, any woman who uses these pills to induce a miscarriage can be sentenced to life in prison. Bpas would like to see abortion removed from the criminal law altogether and regulated in the same stringent way as every other clinical procedure, as current UK abortion laws inhibit the provision of the best medical care for women. By ensuring services are provided in the most accessible, woman-centred way possible, we would reduce the need for any woman to seek abortion pills online.

Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said:

"The numbers of women in Britain seeking abortion pills online documented in this study are quite staggering‎, particularly given that it covers just one service over a 4 month period. It really underlines the need for a thorough overhaul of our abortion laws so that no woman faces clinically unnecessary obstacles in accessing care. It also concerns us deeply that women using pills bought online are at risk of life in prison if caught. 

"Ultimately if we do not think that a woman who turns to online pills to end her own pregnancy should go to prison, we should no longer accept a law that says she should.  As we prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act next month, it’s high time to create a framework that meets the needs of women today, respects their ability to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies, and provides them with accessible high quality healthcare services to exercise that choice.”


Notes to Editors:

The study is available on the Contraception website.

About bpas

bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.