Women in Scotland are the first in the UK to be allowed to take the abortion pill at home.
Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer has written to all health boards to say the drug misoprostol can be taken by women outside of a clinical setting.
The change brings Scotland in line with other countries such as Sweden and France.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been lobbying to change the law in the UK for years.
There were 12,063 terminations of pregnancy in Scotland in 2016 and almost three-quarters (73.5%) were carried out at less than nine weeks gestation.
The vast majority of these early terminations (89.4%) were medical rather than surgical procedures.
The medical treatment involves taking two different medicines.
The first tablet, called Mifepristone, blocks the action of the hormone progesterone, which is needed to maintain the pregnancy.
The second tablet, called Misoprostol, can be given on the same day, or 24, 48 or 72 hours apart.
Not all women are suitable for a medical abortion, although they may still be suitable for a surgical abortion.
The change in Scotland would mean the second tablet Misoprostol – would be administered in a clinical setting but could be taken by women at home.
Within an hour of taking misoprostol women often experience heavy bleeding – usually on the way home from the clinic.
This is a particular concern for women in Scotland who often have to travel long distances to access abortion and maternity services.
The Scottish government said it was making the changes under existing abortion powers.
Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “Abortion can be an emotive subject – however I am proud this government is working hard to ensure women are always able to access clinically safe services.
“Scotland is now the only part of the UK to offer women the opportunity to take misoprostol at home when this is clinically appropriate, a decision that allows women to be in control of their treatment and as comfortable as possible during this procedure.”
Privacy of home
Ann Furedi, chief executive of the BPAS, welcomed the decision.
She said: “This will spare women not only the difficulties associated with having to make more than one clinic visit – childcare, transport, time off work – but it will also spare women from the risk of symptoms on their way home, having taken the medication in a clinic.”
“It is simply perverse that a woman arriving at a BPAS clinic in England and Wales with an incomplete miscarriage can be given the medication to take in the comfort and privacy of her own home, while a woman seeking an abortion must take that same medication on site.
“We hope that the government will follow Scotland’s lead and roll out this important policy change across the rest of Great Britain.”
However, John Deighan, chief executive of the Society for the protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) Scotland, said the change would mark “a return to the days of back street abortions with no medical oversight”.
He added: “The reality is that this will have many vulnerable women who may be desperate about the situation they are in, pushed towards what is seen as the easy option of being handed some drugs and sent home to stop being a problem for society.”