Medical Abortion and the Law

How Can a State Control Swallowing?

‘How Can a State Control Swallowing?’ Medical Abortion and the Law Project

The Medical Society of London, 23 March 2016


Event Description:

Abortion pills have brought about a revolution in abortion provision, contributing to a significant decrease in maternal mortality worldwide and now accounting for over half of all legal terminations reported in Britain.  This event, which is open to all, offers an overview of some of the findings from a recent AHRC-funded research project, along with reactions and reflections from a range of commentators.   With a particular focus on the UK and Ireland, as a geographically contained site that incorporates legal regimes that range from the most restrictive in Europe to among the most liberal, it addresses a range of questions.  What impact do abortion pills have on how we understand abortion?   How well is the use of pills accommodated within existing laws, such as the British Abortion Act (1967), that liberalise access to abortion only under very strict medical control?  What do abortion pills mean for the enforcement of prohibitions against abortion?  How, after all, can a state control swallowing? Finally, what risks are involved in accessing pills online and what responsibility, if any, does a state have to help women to guard against those risks?
The event will present findings from a research project conducted by Professor Sally Sheldon (Kent Law School) and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. A light lunch will be available from 12.45, with drinks provided after the event.




    12.45-1.30       Lunch

    1.30                 Welcome Slides

    1.45-3.15         Medical Abortion and British Law

    • Dr Jennie Bristow (chair)
    • Professor Sally Sheldon Slides
    • Dr Sam Rowlands Statement | Slides
    • Dr Evan Harris
    • Joanne Fletcher Slides
    • Professor Jonathan Montgomery

    3.15-3.45         Coffee

    3.45-5.15         Medical Abortion in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

    • Marge Berer (chair)
    • Professor Sally Sheldon Slides
    • Dr Goretti Horgan
    • Dr Ruth Fletcher
    • Professor Joanna Erdman Remarks
    • Dina Abbas

    5.15-6:00 Drinks Reception





Dina Abbas has been working at Gynuity Health Projects, where she manages clinical and operations research on medical abortion, post-abortion care, and postpartum hemorrhage. Her work is focused on low resource settings, where access to abortion services is often restricted. She holds a MPH from Columbia University in New York City.

Marge Berer is the Coordinator of the International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion since May 2015, the Founding Editor of Reproductive Health Matters 1992-2015, and an independent author, lecturer and advocate on issues such as abortion rights, reproductive rights, maternal mortality, and FGM.

Jennie Bristow is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University. She has published widely on issues relating to generations, reproduction, education, and parenting culture, including a forthcoming book on The Sociology of Generations: New Directions and Challenges (2016, in press). Jennie worked as a journalist for 18 years, and was editor of BPAS Reproductive Review (formerly Abortion Review) from 2000-2015.

Joanna N. Erdman is an assistant professor and the inaugural MacBain Chair in Health Law and Policy at the Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia. Her primary research areas are sexual and reproductive health law in a transnational context.

Joanne Fletcher is a Consultant Nurse in Gynaecology at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.  She has 22 years of leading a NHS Abortion Service. The service is managed by nurses with minimal medical intervention.

Ruth Fletcher is a Senior Lecturer in Medical Law at QMUL. Her current research, Making Life Difficult, develops an account of law’s reproductivity by analysing the generation of different legal pathways to abortion.   Ruth is Academic Editor of Feminist Legal Studies and co-director of the ReValuing Care Network. 

Evan Harris, formerly a hospital doctor, was Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon from 1997 to 2010 and the Liberal Democrat science spokesman for five years. In 2008, he coordinated a raft of amendments designed to modernise and liberalise the 1967 Abortion Act. The Brown Government used a procedural device to prevent Parliament from debating them. 

Goretti Horgan is a lecturer in Social Policy at Ulster University. While most of her research to date has been with children, she has published on abortion and is about to start an ESRC-funded comparative study of women in Northern Ireland accessing abortion through pills bought over the internet and women in Scotland who access the same pills via the NHS.  She is also a pro-choice activist.

Jonathan Montgomery is Professor of Health Care Law at University College London. In addition to his academic work, he has also undertaken a number of significant public service roles. These currently include serving as Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, and as Chair of the Health Research Authority.

Sam Rowlands is the Clinical Lead in sexual and reproductive health, Dorset HealthCare and a Visiting Professor, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bournemouth University.

Sally Sheldon is Professor of Law at Kent University and a trustee of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.  She has written widely on issues in medical ethics and law.  The current project is one of two research projects in this area.  The second, also funded by the AHRC, is a two-year historical study, entitled The Abortion Act (1967): a Biography.




The research is funded by an AHRC Research Fellowship 'How Can a State Control Swallowing?': Medical Abortion and the Law (AH/L006537/1).


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Last Updated: 04/04/2016