Government U-Turn on temporary approval of home use for both stages of early medical abortion
London, March 25th 2020
Earlier this week, the Department of Health approved temporary measures in England to ensure continued access to early medical abortion services, but just a few hours later inexplicably retracted its decision, with no regard for evidence or expert clinical advice.
Commenting on this U-turn, Marie Stopes UK's Medical Director Jonathan Lord said:
“We are horrified by the government’s U-turn, which was made with no explanation or regard for the advice of clinical experts.
“Women are already bearing the brunt of this cruel, reckless and irresponsible decision and being forced out of self-isolation to mix unnecessarily with others, endangering both their health and that of frontline NHS staff, at the same time as putting more pressure on a health service already stretched to the limit.
“We have already heard widespread reports across the NHS of women being unable to access services, leaving them extremely distressed at a time when they need care the most. If the regulations are not changed urgently, women may be left with no option but to seek care illegally and will be denied the standards of care they deserve.
“We implore the government to act on science, evidence and expert clinical advice to limit the spread of COVID-19 as well as ensure continued access to abortion care, instead of reacting to extreme pressure groups who have a strong anti-woman agenda.”
What would the changes have meant for women?
The regulations introduced by the Department of Health and Social Care on Monday would have helped to limit the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) and ensure continued access to early medical abortion services.
Allowing women to take both sets of pills in the comfort of their own homes is a safe, convenient, confidential way of providing abortion, in line with guidance from both the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and is a service that has been provided since 2014 by our sister country programme in Australia, long before the start of the current pandemic.
Unless the government approves home use, women seeking abortion care will continue to be forced out of self-isolation to mix unnecessarily with others, endangering both their health and that of frontline NHS staff, at the same time as putting more pressure on a health service already stretched to the limit.
Franki Appleton, Advocacy and Public Affairs Advisor, on why the government must help women access abortion care during the COVID-19 crisis:
"Unless a doctor is in a registered clinic, they cannot sign off legal grounds for an abortion or prescribe the medication. This week's short-lived changes to legislation would have enabled doctors to do that very vital role from home - for instance while self-isolating. It’s completely medically unnecessary to have a restriction on where a doctor can physically sit in order to provide expertise."
"Women who currently require an abortion should still call us. We can provide advice over the phone. The vast majority of our centres and clinics are still open, and we’re pulling out all the stops to make sure we can still provide services. We can do consultations, safeguarding and medical checks over the phone, but as it stands they would still need to visit a clinic to collect the medication. Abortion is an essential medical service and therefore it is a valid and legitimate reason to leave the house."
Email your MP now
The Health Secretary's refusal to listen to scientific evidence on protecting women’s health during this pandemic is putting women at severe risk, and abortion services are already buckling under pressure.
In times of crisis, taking abortion pills at home will allow women who are self-isolating, vulnerable, or living with those who are at-risk to still have access to essential healthcare.