End of 'DIY home abortions' in England welcomed

A government minister has confirmed that a temporary provision permitting at-home ‘DIY’ abortions during the Covid-19 pandemic will come to an end in England on the 30th of August. The decision has been described as a victory for the welfare of women by advocacy groups. 

The abortion ‘pills by post’ scheme allowing women to access two abortion pills was introduced in March 2020 as an ‘emergency’ measure prompted by the first Covid lockdown in Britain. The controversal scheme allowed women to access abortion-inducing pills mifepristone and misoprostol without face to face consultation, prompting concern from medics and pro-life campaigners. 

In a written statement made on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care, Minister for Vaccines and Public Health, Maggie Throup MP, said:

“I am announcing a six-month extension to the temporary arrangements for the provision of early medical abortion put in place during the COVID pandemic. The Government will end the temporary approval put in place at the beginning of the pandemic that allows women to take both pills for early medical abortion up to 10 weeks gestation at home. The temporary approval will end at midnight on 29 August 2022. From this point, the pre-COVID regulatory requirements for the provision of early medical abortion will be reinstated.”

However, Ms Throup added that “this measure will be kept under review.” While the news is good news for pro-life campaigners in England, the Welsh Assembly has decided to make the measures permanent. Speaking to the BBC, Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan described the contentious decision as a “progressive step” which “demonstrated the Welsh Government’s commitment to supporting women.”

As reported by Gript in September, Britain witnessed a worrying surge in the number of 999 calls from women taking abortion pills at home, according to reports from ambulance chiefs in response to a Freedom of Information request. 

Pro-life campaigners described the decision to allow women to be posted abortion pills to take without medical consultation as “deeply concerning”, with emergency call-outs related to the pills have doubled in some UK regions. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, women seeking an abortion were required under law to see a doctor or nurse in person before being able to access the two abortion pills. The first pill had usually been taken under medical supervision and the second at home. This system will now be reinstated.

Although the ‘pills by post’ system was always meant to be temporary, abortion campaigners made repeated calls for it to be made permanent — despite the large increase in women seeking medical assistance.

In May, more than 600 medics demanded that British PM Boris Johnson end the problematic and controversial ‘pills by post’ system. In an open letter, they called for an immediate reversal to the relaxation in abortion rules, citing disturbing evidence that some pills obtained through the post after online or telephone consultations were used on unborn babies beyond the ten-week limit — and even after the 24-week U.K. limit for surgical abortions.

In the letter, doctors warned: “The decision to permit the taking of medical abortion pills at home is a dangerous policy that must not be made permanent,” adding that the move should be revoked “to protect the welfare of women”. They also argued that the new rules also make it easier for men to coerce women into abortions against their will and failed to protect girls who were being abused by adults, or women trafficked into prostitution.

One signatory of the letter, Dr Calum Miller, of Oxford University, said an in-person medical examination was “a critical safety measure to check the gestation of the pregnancy” and other possible medical issues, adding: “We should not be failing women by eliminating the checks.”

Earlier this month, Christian Concern launched an appeal calling on pro-lifers to contact their MPs to encourage them to support the axing of the scheme.

“We’ve heard directly from women who were coerced by their partner into an abortion. We’ve seen a spike in ambulances being called out for abortion complications. And abortion clinics are sending pills to women who are well beyond the safety limit for this type of abortion.

“The abortion lobby wants to keep this policy – it’s more convenient for them and keeps everyone’s minds off the tiny baby whose life is being ended with each pill,” the organisation said.

Writing for Gript last year, Niamh Uí Bhriain said that the Irish Government was withholding information about the reality of abortion pills from the public. 

In 2020, then Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said that the abortion pill could be prescribed remotely during the Covid crisis, despite the HSE previously saying that pregnant women needed to attend a pre-abortion consultation in a surgery or clinic. When this radical change was made in March 2020, pro-life doctors and nurses cautioned that removing the requirement for a physical consultation could be dangerous owing to the fact that an ultrasound may be required to determine gestation – and can be crucial to diagnose if a pregnancy is ectopic. 

However, the Irish Government or abortion-rights campaigners raised no fears about women’s safety when taking the abortion pill at home after a phone or Skype consultation – despite voters in 2018 being told on a repeated basis that women were putting their lives in danger by importing abortion pills and taking them without medical supervision.

Moreover, in October 2021, in a startling admission, the HSE admitted it was not collecting data on any complications that arise from at-home-abortions, even though it was in  the process of considering whether to continue the remote consultations in place after the Covid crisis ended.

“The government, it seems, doesn’t want women to have this information. Women need to start asking why that is,” Niamh Uí Bhriain said.

This piece was first published on Gript

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