Medical abortion: fact check

An individual has recently been prosecuted and imprisoned for illegally selling mifepristone in London. We think it is important to clarify some facts about abortion in the UK that were missed in reporting of this case. These include:

  1. Women living in England, Scotland and Wales can access abortion free and do not need to seek out or pay for clandestine services or medication.
  2. It is not necessary to see your GP to arrange an abortion. A range of local sexual health clinics and specialist young people’s clinics such as Brook can refer for abortion; and the two independent abortion providers bpas and Marie Stopes can take direct bookings for NHS-funded abortions from women in many areas. In Scotland there is a central phone number to arrange an abortion.
  3. Any consultation about abortion is confidential even for those under 16, so concerns about confidentiality should not deter women from seeking professional help.
  4. Mifepristone is not a ‘noxious substance’. It is a safe medication on the World Health Organization Essential Medicines list with misoprostol and is registered in the UK as one of the medicines (with misoprostol) to be used for a medical abortion.
  5. In 2014 51% of all abortion procedures in England and Wales and 80% in Scotland were carried out using medical abortion.
  6. In Northern Ireland, the law denies almost all women access to safe legal abortion and women who cannot, or who cannot afford to, travel to the UK mainland or another country for an abortion do sometimes purchase medical abortion pills online.
  7. As with any medicines, mifepristone and misoprostol should be taken appropriately according to reliable medical advice.
  8. There are two web-based organisations known to us who offer a medical consultation for women and provide mifepristone and misoprostol for abortions under 10 weeks of pregnancy (Women Help Women and Women on Web).
  9. A woman in N.Ireland is currently being prosecuted for purchasing abortion medication for her daughter.
  10. A group of 200 activists in N. Ireland have expressed solidarity with this woman by proposing that they too are arrested for purchasing or providing medical abortion pills.


Further articles on the efficacy and safety of medical abortion and induced abortion more generally:

Aligning Mifepristone Regulation with Evidence: Driving Policy Change Using 15 Years of Excellent Safety Data. Cleland K, Smith N. Contraception. 2015 Jun 17.

Safety, efficacy and acceptability of outpatient mifepristone-misoprostol medical abortion through 70 days since last menstrual period in public sector facilities in Mexico City. Sanhueza Smith P, Peña M, Dzuba IG, García Martinez ML, Aranguré Peraza AG, Bousiéguez M, Shochet T, Winikoff B. Reprod Health Matters. 2015 Feb;22(44 Suppl 1):75-82.

Efficacy and safety of medical abortion using mifepristone and buccal misoprostol through 63 days. Gatter M, Cleland K, Nucatola DL. Contraception. 2015 Apr;91(4):269-73.

Safety of induced abortions at less than 12 weeks of pregnancy in Japan. Sekiguchi A, Ikeda T, Okamura K, Nakai A. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2015 Apr;129(1):54-7.

Medical management of unwanted pregnancy in France: modalities and outcomes. The aMaYa study. Nisand I, Bettahar K; Investigators of the aMaYa Study. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2015 Jan;184:13-8.

Effectiveness and Safety of Lower Doses of Mifepristone Combined With Misoprostol for the Termination of Ultra-Early Pregnancy: A Dose-Ranging Randomized Controlled Trial. Li CL, Chen DJ, Song LP, Wang Y, Zhang ZF, Liu MX, Chen WL. Reprod Sci. 2015 Jun;22(6):706-11.

The comparative safety of legal induced abortion and childbirth in the United StatesRaymond EG, Grimes DA. Obstetrics and Gynecology 2012 Feb; 119(2 pt1) 215-219.