Abortion pill a big hit in Britain

Records in Britain show that as many as 10,000 women had an abortion at home last year, using abortion drugs.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) says that of the 32,000 terminations it provided in the first nine weeks of pregnancy, almost one-third were "medical" and involved the abortion pill.

As far as the BPAS is concerned this represents some measure of success in terms of sexual health.

The "abortion pill" can only used in the first nine weeks of pregnancy after that time only surgical termination is permitted and the BPAS say the demand for the early medical abortion service has reached a record high.

A medical abortion involves a woman taking the drug mifepristone which is done under supervision, and then returning two days later to take four pills of misoprostol.

They are then allowed to return home, where the termination takes place within a few hours.

About 77 per cent of 50,000 treatments carried out by BPAS last year were conducted on behalf of the National Health Service.

The abortion pill works by blocking pregnancy hormones and making the uterus contract.

The BPAS is the UK's biggest independent provider of abortions, and they say demand for the pills has rocketed over the past three years since the service started allowing women to go home after the second dose.

Records show that in 2003 BPAS clinics gave 3,500 women early medical abortions (EMAs), but this rose to 5,000 in 2004 and doubled to 10,000 in 2005, which is the highest ever.

Miss Ann Furedi, the chief executive of BPAS says they are glad that it has been recognised that the best option for women needing abortion is earlier access and the trend is a success for BPAS and for the government's sexual health strategy.

Furedi says government investment into selected NHS primary care trusts had enabled them to improve early access to abortions, making BPAS the biggest provider of EMA in Europe.

She says women prefer EMAs because they are less invasive, led by nurses, avoid the need for surgery or anaesthesia and bypass sometimes lengthy NHS waiting lists.

But the pressure group Comment on Reproductive Ethics (Core) called BPAS's "trumpeting" its role in the 10,000 abortions "deeply insensitive self-promotion" and says every rational person, regardless of their stance on the rights of the unborn child, has to agree that the ideal for any woman and the health of any nation is fewer, or no abortions.

According to the anti-abortion organisation Life mifepristone has been responsible for at least 10 women dying but this is disputed by doctors who say the abortion pill is far safer than many other drugs.

The Department of Health says they are closely monitoring mifepristone's safety.

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