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Abortion services

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 at all.

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, 2002.
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.

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