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LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A government minister has confirmed that a temporary provision allowing for at-home abortions during the COVID-19 pandemic will end on Aug. 30.
In March 2020, the UK government put in place a temporary approval in England allowed women to be allowed to take the abortion-inducing medication mifepristone and misoprostol in their own homes for an early medical abortion up to 9 weeks and 6 days gestation after a telephone or video consultation with a medical professional, with the pills being delivered by the mail.
“This temporary measure was put in place at the start of a public health emergency, to address a specific and acute medical need, reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and ensuring continued access to abortion services. At the time a decision was made to time limit the approval for 2 years, or until the pandemic was over ‒ whichever was earliest,” said Maggie Throup, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Vaccines and Public Health, on Feb. 24.
“After careful consideration, the Government’s view is that the provision of early medical abortion should return to pre-COVID arrangements. The wellbeing and safety of women requiring access to abortion services has been, and will continue to be, our first and foremost priority,” she continued, adding that “increased pressure” on the health services meant a short-term extension of the temporary approval would last until the end of August.
Before the emergency rules were in place, women could only get the second pill for early medical abortion to be taken at home and women were required to attend a clinic to take the first pill.
Pro-life groups complained the pandemic provisions left women without medical supervision, reliable in-person safeguarding checks, and a routine in-person medical examination.
“By removing a routine in-person consultation that allows medical practitioners to certify gestation and recognize potential coercion or abuse, ‘at-home’ abortion has presented serious risks to women and girls in abusive situations. It has allowed severe complications to occur, as well as abortions beyond the legal limit, as abortion providers currently cannot ensure the pills are taken by the intended individual within the appropriate time frame,” said Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK.
She said in a statement the pro-life group welcomed the government’s decision, but were disappointed the policy wasn’t ending in March, as originally planned.
“At-home abortion schemes have been linked to a series of scandals where women have been put at risk by the removal of an in-person consultation,” the Right to Life UK spokesperson said.
“A study released in November 2021 suggested that more than 10,000 women had to receive hospital treatment following the use of medical abortion pills in England between April 2020 and September 2021,” she added.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) called the at-home abortion provisions a “cruel policy which ignored the needs of women.”
“The DIY home abortion scheme has inflicted untold damage to countless mothers and their babies,” said Michael Robinson, SPUC’s executive director.
The organization cited Freedom of Information requests made to National Health Service (NHS) Trusts in England that showed that 5.9 percent of women using abortion drugs are subsequently treated in hospital for complications arising from an incomplete abortion and data from the ambulance service that indicated that on average 36 women every month make emergency calls seeking medical assistance for complications arising from having taken abortion pills.
“The decision to reverse this policy highlights that abortion drugs are dangerous for women and their unborn children. SPUC encourages ministers to continue to consider the damning effect abortion has on women, and restore full protection to them, and their unborn children,” the SPUC executive director said.
Catherine Robinson, the Right to Life UK spokesperson, also cited a poll from Savanta ComRes, which showed that 71 percent of the general population and 75 percent of women in England are concerned about women undergoing an abortion procedure at home, and 84 percent of the general population and 86 percent of women are concerned about women being at risk of being coerced into an abortion by a partner or family member during the home abortion process where a doctor does not see the woman in person. A separate poll from the same agency showed 82 percent of family doctors said they are concerned about the possibility of abortion pills being falsely obtained for another person with a telemedicine abortion appointment where the doctor has not seen the woman in person.
“Polling in England shows the overwhelming majority of women and GPs surveyed were concerned by the possibility of pills being falsely obtained for another person, and by women having medical abortions at home beyond the legal limit,” she said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome