New plans for extending
access to medical abortion in England and Wales
By Ellie Lee
The news that the Government is to authorise some family planning
clinics to offer medical abortion has been greeted with predictable
opposition from anti-abortion groups.
In their now all-too-familiar parody of those concerned for
women's health, the proposed scheme has come under fire for
representing a threat to women's health and well-being. A
litany of health based objections have been raised, from the
claim by Nuala Scarisbrick of Life that 'its psychological
effects are pretty dire because [the woman] is going to have
to watch the whole procedure', and that 'This DIY abortion
is accompanied by extremely heavy bleeding', to the claim
from SPUC's Paul Tully that the move will 'put further pressure
on women' who already make decisions 'under enormous pressure
and at great apprehension'. Josephine Quintavalle, speaking
for the Pro-Life Alliance claimed that the Government's aim
was to save money 'by not using anaesthetics'.
This response proves, yet
again, that abortion opponents are unable to defend their
opposition to abortion on moral grounds, and resort instead
to promoting fears about the health effects of abortion. The
logic of their position, however, is that there should be
greater access to early surgical abortion. If the problem
is really that the Government is unprepared to spend money
on anaesthetics, and is opting for promoting a less safe alternative,
why not lobby for the abortion method Life and SPUC appear
to deem preferable?
Of course, the basis for their
argument against medical abortion is entirely unfounded. Both
methods of early abortion are medically safe. And in the current
furore there is the danger that this point gets lost. In seems
that, in their efforts to make the case for provision of medical
abortion through family planning clinics, Government spokespeople
are presenting medical abortion as desirable because it is
'safer and less traumatic' than the surgical alternative.
In comments to the print media, and in radio debates about
this issues today (8 July) the point has constantly been made
that medical abortion is less time consuming, and less 'traumatic'
than surgery. The unfortunate tendency has been to present
'surgical abortion' as a major, drawn-out, highly invasive
procedure that is psychologically very difficult for women.
This of course, particularly since the advent of local anaesthetic
abortions performed as day care procedures, is not the case
The real point that needs
to be emphasised is that women should be able to choose between
two options for abortion in early pregnancy, both of which
are medically safe. The ideal situation would be for both
options to be available to all women, and hopefully the current
initiative suggests, finally, a move in the right direction.
BBC News Online, 'Abortion plans 'irresponsible', 7 July,
Gaby Hinsliff, 'Fury over fast-track abortions', The Observer,
7 July, 2002.
Sally Pook, 'Greater access to abortion pill criticised',
Daily Telegraph, 8 July, 2002.