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Allowing women to have abortions in their own homes is humane and necessary

Women in Wales and Scotland can take abortion medication at home. But English women are still being forced to endure bleeding and pain on buses and in taxis. Radhika Sanghani reports

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By Radhika Sanghani on

Last year, Claudia Craig had an abortion. At just seven weeks pregnant, the 22-year-old student was able to have a medical abortion with pills instead of a surgical procedure. The first stage was fine. She took the pill mifepristone in a hospital and then, 24 hours later, came back to take the second pill, misoprostol.

Afterwards, she took a taxi home with her flatmate, but en route, started to feel woozy with painful cramps. “I had no idea what was going on,” she says. “I was convinced I was going to projectile vomit. I felt so, so, so unwell, and the cramping was increasing every few seconds.”

She only just made it back to her flat before she vomited everywhere and the bleeding began. “My abortion started on the bathroom floor,” says the now 23-year-old. “It was all hugely unnecessary. I should have been able to take that second pill at home, and do it in my own time. My whole experience could have been sitting in my living room with a glass of water in pyjamas – but instead the process began in a taxi.”

Craig has now joined forces with a number of women’s organisations to campaign for a change in English law to ensure that women can take misoprostol at home – and avoid beginning their abortion processes on public transport. Last year, Scotland made this legal, and this year, Wales has followed suit. It’s why campaigners are hoping that England will finally do the same.

“In forcing women to make multiple clinic visits to obtain the medication they need, [the government] is punishing women who have an abortion,” says Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which has joined forces with the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), to persuade new health secretary Matt Hancock to update the law. “It is illogical and profoundly unfair that women in Wales and Scotland will be able to go home with the pills to take in their own time, when they feel safe and comfortable, while just a few miles away women in England will still be compelled to take the same medication in the clinic, before rushing to get home before bleeding and cramping begins.”

All women should have the ability to choose the terms of their abortions – in the same way they should have the right to choose what to do with their bodies – but, for some women, it’s a complete necessity. The RCOG have pointed out in the British Medical Journal that the current law affects the most vulnerable: “Those who are deprived, live in rural areas or have dependants.”

A change in law would have hugely positive consequences for women who are disabled and unable to travel, carers, those with mental-health conditions, such as agoraphobia, and even those who are experiencing domestic violence

A change in law would have hugely positive consequences for women who are disabled and unable to travel, carers, those with mental-health conditions, such as agoraphobia, and even those who are experiencing domestic violence. The RCOG thinks there is “no justification [for the government] not to act unless the aim is to punish women having a legal abortion”.

Furedi believes the government’s lack of action is an “entirely political, not clinical, decision”. And the World Health Organization has found “there is no evidence that home-based medical abortion is less effective, safe or acceptable than clinic-based medical abortion."

Women undergoing incomplete miscarriages are given the exact same pill, misoprostol, and allowed to take it at home. The only reason that women undergoing abortions are forced to take it at a hospital or clinic is because of a law dating back to 1967.

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party – which is campaigning alongside Craig – thinks the government’s failure to update the law is “dangerously close to a moralising stance”. “Women's reproductive rights are not just a matter of healthcare but of human rights,” she says. “Having control of your own body is a fundamental right and one that for women is essential if we are to attain equality.”

For Craig, a change in law is necessary and simple common sense. “I’m angry, and I think it’s horribly unfair that women are still in this situation. I was lucky that I lived 15 minutes from the hospital, but if I’d been getting a train home, the whole thing would have happened before I’d even reached my house. I’m lucky my parents gave me money for a taxi or it would have happened on the bus.”

She now lives in England, working in London, and though she is using long-term contraception, she worries that if she did fall pregnant again, she’d have an even more traumatic journey home. “My concern of having an abortion now would be, how would I manage the travel?” she says.

Her hope now is that the government will listen to the major women’s organisations and healthcare bodies calling for this change – as well as all the ordinary women who are joining the campaign by emailing their MPs using this simple online tool that takes a matter of seconds. “When women come together we can achieve amazing things,” explains Craig. “The Welsh government said their decision was made by listening to the views of clinicians and women's groups. It’s why we need to make a noise and make sure that the new health secretary Matt Hancock hears us, that he listens to our stories and doesn't ignore them like Jeremy Hunt did.

“It’s horrible that any women are still in this situation, but the fact that our sisters in Scotland and Wales can take the abortion pill at home makes it feel like England’s health secretary isn’t taking women’s needs seriously. We need to demand that women in England have the same rights. Change is possible.”

@radhikasanghani

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