Hundreds of British women are seeking illegal abortion pills online

Marie Claire Dorking
More women than ever are trying to access illegal abortion pills online [Photo: JESHOOTS.com via Pexels]
More women than ever are trying to access illegal abortion pills online [Photo: JESHOOTS.com via Pexels]

More British women than ever are trying to access illegal abortion pills online, new research has revealed.

A study, published in the journal Contraception, has found that 519 women attempted to access the pills in the UK, even in areas where abortion is lawful and funded.

The research by from the University of Texas found that more than 500 women from Britain contacted Women on Web, a non-profit organisation that sends the pills to those in countries where the procedure is illegal, between November 2016 and August 2017.

The data reveals a dramatic increase in the number of women in Britain seeking to illegally carry out early medical abortions at home, despite the procedure being legally available in England, Scotland, and Wales.

Women who contacted Women on Web cited long waiting times, distances to a clinic, work and childcare commitments, and lack of eligibility for services on the NHS as being amongst the reasons for seeking abortion pills 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.

Women have cited long waiting times and lack of access to abortion services as reasons for trying to access the pills [Photo: Pixabay via Pexels]
Women have cited long waiting times and lack of access to abortion services as reasons for trying to access the pills [Photo: Pixabay via Pexels]

But the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is calling for abortion to be removed from criminal law altogether and regulated in the same stringent way as every other clinical procedure.

They believe that current UK abortion laws inhibit the provision of the best medical care for women and that by ensuring services are provided in the most accessible, woman-centred way possible, the need for women to seek abortion pills online would be reduced.

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,” she continues.

“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.”

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