The Medical Framework and Early Medical Abortion in the U.K.: How Can a State Control Swallowing?

Sally Sheldon, “The Medical Framework and Early Medical Abortion in the U.K.: How Can a State Control Swallowing?”  chapter 9 in Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies, ed. Rebecca J. Cook, Joanna N. Erdman, and Bernard M. Dickens (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014) pp. 189-209, 422n-425n.  Ahora disponible en español.

In this chapter, Sally Sheldon uses early medical (i.e., nonsurgical) abortion using drugs such as mifepristone (RU486) and misoprostol, a routine procedure in many countries, as a focus for exploring the strengths and weaknesses of the highly medicalized framework for the provision of good safe, legal abortion services in Britain. While this frame, entrenched in statute and broadly accepted, has contributed to significant depoliticization and liberalization of access to abortion, it has also obstructed other ways of conceptualizing what is at stake in the debate on abortion, notably, women’s reproductive rights. Sheldon explores the resilience of this medicalized control despite a court challenge to repeal the clinically unsupported restrictions on the use of nonsurgical abortion, and evidence from other countries regarding the safety of its home use.
The potential of early medical abortion to challenge received understandings of abortion and existing regulatory frameworks is striking. The possibility of purchasing early medical abortion drugs online brings safer abortion outside of medical control and into the reach of many women. In future years, legal disputes regarding abortion may come to be focused on pharmaceutical licensing procedures, the regulation of telemedicine, conflicts of laws, and customs restrictions. And while abortion has long been a difficult crime to detect and prosecute, the challenges involved in any attempt to regulate early medical abortion – or to contain it within tight medical control – will be very significantly greater.

Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies was published in August 2014.  by the University of Pennsylvania Press’s Studies in Human Rights Series.   Table of Contents and other information online.   A Spanish edition was published in August, 2016.  Ahora disponible en español.

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