“Morning after” pills, “miscarriage,” and muddle

John Keown

in The Law and Ethics of Medicine

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199589555
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741036 | DOI:
“Morning after” pills, “miscarriage,” and muddle

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This chapter considers whether it is an offence, contrary to section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, to administer the “morning after” pill with intent to prevent the implantation in the uterus of any embryo which may have been conceived as a result of intercourse. Its focus is the judgment of Mr Justice Munby in the Smeaton case that section 58 is not engaged because it prohibits acts done with intent to procure a “miscarriage” and a “miscarriage” is possible only after implantation. The chapter contends that this ruling is difficult to reconcile with the word’s accepted meaning in 1861 and with the relevant case law. It questions the judge’s “updating” construction of “miscarriage” and concludes that, even on such a construction, it is far from clear, whether from modern medical dictionaries or general linguistic usage, that “miscarriage” today excludes the prevention of implantation.

Keywords: morning after pill; miscarriage; section 58; Smeaton; Mr Justice Munby

Chapter.  11831 words. 

Subjects: Medical and Healthcare Law

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