LONDON — The British government announced on Saturday that women in England would legally be allowed to take an abortion pill at home for the first time, following in the footsteps of decisions by Scotland and Wales.
Under the new regulation, set to take effect by the end of this year, women will be able to take the second of two early abortion pills “in the safe and familiar surroundings of their own home,” the government said.
Currently, women seeking to terminate a pregnancy in the first 10 weeks must take two pills — mifepristone and misoprostol — at a clinic, 24 to 48 hours apart.
That means women in England must visit a clinic twice to ingest the pill and then make their way home to complete the termination, the government said in a statement, which “can be difficult to organize and often uncomfortable or traumatic.”
“In some cases, women can begin to miscarry before they have reached their home,” the statement added. Women can still opt to take the second pill at a clinic.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care, four out of five terminations in England are early medical abortions, carried out under 10 weeks’ gestation.
The statement said the government would work with institutions like the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to develop guidance for medical professionals providing the at-home option to patients.
The president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Lesley Regan, said in a statement that the change was a “a major step forward for women’s health care.”
“This simple and practical measure will provide women with significantly more choice and is the most compassionate care we can give them,” Ms. Regan said. “It will allow women to avoid distress and embarrassment of bleeding and pain during their journey home from an unnecessary second visit to a clinic or hospital.”
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children criticized the change, saying in a statement that the move “further trivializes abortion.”
“The abortion pill puts women through a terrible emotional and physical ordeal,” the organization added, according to the BBC. “The determination of the abortion industry to push women to undergo this in their own home with no real medical supervision illustrates their cavalier attitude when it comes to the well-being of women.”
The society had challenged the Scottish government’s decision to allow women to take an abortion pill at home, but the plan was upheld this month. Wales announced its own plan in June.
Abortion has been legal in England, Scotland and Wales since 1967, but is mostly against the law in Northern Ireland.
In May, the Republic of Ireland voted in a landslide to repeal one of the world’s more restrictive abortion bans. The government pledged to pass legislation by the end of the year to allow unrestricted terminations up to 12 weeks.