#Dorries: PILLS the modern day 'Back Street Abortion' Does Dorries have these figures to hand of how many women use this method ?
Women are risking their health and even their lives by taking illegal abortion pills bought online - and young girls who want to keep their pregnancy secret are particularly vulnerable. As experts warn of a dangerous trend, Your Life investigates
She had never thought she would consider an abortion. But when 19-year-old Lara got pregnant after a one night stand, she knew it was her only choice.
But forced to keep her pregnancy a secret, Lara went online and bought abortion drugs to take at home.
Despite it being illegal to take the drugs without the supervision of a medical expert, some women like Lara now feel they have no other option but to risk their health by terminating their pregnancy alone at home.
For most women who go the official route for an abortion, even in the earliest stages of pregnancy, they will visit their clinic as many as four times.
They will sit through a consultation, come back to take a pill under supervision, return up to two days later for another that will induce the abortion, before a final follow-up meeting.
The law says abortion pills must be taken in the presence of a doctor or nurse. And as much as the second pill is administered under supervision, women are allowed home straight after they take it. In fact, some have told harrowing stories of being sent home bleeding on public transport and doubled over in pain in public toilets.
But for some women, the experience gets even worse than that. Desperate to terminate their pregnancy, they are buying abortion pills for £15 online, opting to break the law and put their health at risk rather than work their way through the official system. Young girls wanting to keep their pregnancy secret are increasingly taking this dangerous route.
And with no assurances about what the drugs really are, and no medical advice about what to do if things go wrong, this could become a very dangerous trend.
Patricia Lohr, medical director of the largest dedicated abortion provider, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, says: “One of the biggest risks with buying drugs over the internet is that in most cases they’re uncontrolled and unregulated so there’s no way of telling that they are what they say they are. This means they could be ineffective or even harmful.
“When you go through the proper channels, you’ll be asked about your medical history. Not everyone is suitable for an abortion pill – for instance it shouldn’t be prescribed for women on certain medications or with particular conditions.
“It’s also vital to know exactly how far along in the pregnancy you are as this determines how the pill should be taken and whether or not it will be effective. This may not happen online.”
Lara, from the Republic of Ireland, felt she had no option but to take the risk. She was always against abortion, until she got pregnant herself.
“I was in my final year at an all-girls’ Catholic school and had won a provisional place to study at a top university in Dublin,” Lara explains.
“When I got pregnant after a one-night stand over the Christmas holidays in 2009, I wanted to scream. But I could tell no one. Having a baby would have meant getting expelled and having to give up my uni place for life as a teenage single mum.”
Lara tried all the old wives’ tales to end the pregnancy herself. None worked, so she went online.
“I went out to an internet cafe to research the abortion pill. I was looking over my shoulder the entire time I was there.
“Being pregnant was scary enough, but the idea of being arrested for having an abortion illegally was terrifying.
“I got a tip from a chat forum for pregnant girls, and bought mifepristone and misoprostol online for £60 each. I got up at 6am each day to wait for the postman so I could hide the package as soon as it arrived.
“It was an agonising wait, because I was six weeks pregnant and they need to be taken before nine weeks.
“A few hours after taking the pills the cramps and the bleeding were excruciating, but I felt I deserved that pain.
“Of course I couldn’t go to a doctor or I could’ve faced jail.
“The pills worked, and I’m at uni now. But every time mum or dad tells me they’re proud of me, part of me wants to confess that actually I think I am the most shameful person in the world.”
At BPAS clinics, women will also be given information about what is normal after the abortion. “There’s a small risk of potentially serious complications, such as severe bleeding and infections, and it’s vital that women understand when they may need to seek medical advice,” adds Patricia.
“Finally, a clinic will check whether the treatment has worked. It’s hard to do this yourself as pregnancy tests may give inaccurate results.”
But with the process for legal abortions bound by complicated laws that date back to the 1960s, some experts are concerned the system is outdated and could drive more women to take extreme measures.
Last month, BPAS failed in its bid to change the law to allow women to take the second element of the abortion medication – misoprostol – at home, as women in the United States, France, India, Ethiopia and North Korea already can.
BPAS’s associated director, Clare Murphy, says a major pressure on women having abortions is the long distances they have to repeatedly travel.
“Women regularly travel more than an hour to access early medical abortion, often on public transport,” she says. “Our clinic in Cardiff sees women who have driven for three hours to get there.”
But, warns Clare, that is no reason to opt for playing Russian roulette with online drugs.
She says: “We believe when women have a choice they prefer to be treated by someone they can trust, rather than obtain the medication from an unknown source online.
“You do not know what you’re getting, you may not know the correct dosage, and one of the main risks is that it simply will not work.
“Even though all the evidence shows that for early abortion it is safe and effective to administer misoprostol at home, it is important women receive comprehensive advice as to what to expect, what is normal, and what might indicate a problem.
“And they know they have someone to turn to – for medical and emotional support.”
As things stand, early medical abortion typically involves taking two sets of medication – mifepristone, which detaches the pregnancy, and then misoprostol, which induces the abortion – 24 to 48 hours apart.
It is increasingly requested by women seeking abortion in the first nine weeks of pregnancy, with more than 70,000 treatments carried out in 2009.
Considered safer and less traumatic than a surgical procedure, it is strongly opposed by pro-life campaigners, although experts say there is no medical evidence to show that taking one set of the pills at home would endanger the woman’s health.
The process can often involve four trips to the clinic: the consultation, one for each dose of medication and a follow-up.
“We want to take out the misoprostol appointment,” says Clare, “and give women the drugs to take away with them when they attend for mifepristone.
“This would eliminate all the stress about travelling home, knowing the cramping and bleeding could begin at any moment, the financial difficulties of coming back or problems organising childcare.
“But if access to abortions became harder, with cost or other barriers growing, online abortion drugs could become the backstreet abortion of the 21st century.”