Morning-after pill hearing concludes

 The hearing of evidence and arguments in SPUC's high court judicial review on the sale of the morning-after pill without prescription, ended last week. Mr Justice Munby, presiding, said there was so much to consider he needed time to prepare his judgement, which may not be delivered until after Easter. Health ministers and the leader of the House of Commons have asked to see the judgement five days before it is published, in order to prepare to address any public policy implications. A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "We are vigorously defending this case and are confident that we will win. The current legal position - which SPUC is seeking to overturn - has stood for over 17 years with the full support of the public and Parliament, and without credible challenge. The Government's position is clear; women should have ready access to a wide range of contraception including emergency contraception and that must continue to be the case." It is expected that in the event of a ruling in SPUC's favour, the government will rush through emergency legislation allowing for the supply of the morning after pill over the counter. SPUC challenged the policy of supplying Levonelle over the counter on the basis of the Offences Against The Person Act (1861), which prohibits the supply of any 'poison or other noxious thing' with intent to cause miscarriage. Mr Richard Gordon QC, representing SPUC, set out the argument that one of the purposes of the Act was to protect unborn human life at all stages of development. The hearings lasted three days, a day more than expected. John Smeaton, SPUC national director, said: "The judge's comments and the government's request reflect the seriousness with which this case is being treated." Nuala Scarisbrick, from pro-life charity LIFE said: "'It is enormously important that the lie about what women are doing to their bodies when they take these so-called 'contraceptive' pills should be squashed once and for all. Women must be told the truth: "emergency contraception" is primarily abortifacient. Its chief purpose is not to stop a new life beginning but to destroy a life begun. However a spokesperson for the FPA, which was asked by the government to intervene in the case, described the case as "another extraordinary attempt to restrict women's access to emergency contraception, which will also have implications for other kinds of contraception, including the pill and the IUD." It said the issue was resolved in 1983 by Sir Michael Havers, the then Attorney General in a written answer to a parliamentary question. "Whatever the state of medical knowledge in the 19th century, the ordinary use of the word 'miscarriage' related to interference at a stage of pre-natal development later than implantation," he said.

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