Coronavirus: Women will now be able to take abortion pills at home during outbreak

They do not have to attend a hospital or clinic first in order to do so

Matt Mathers
Monday 23 March 2020 17:24 GMT

Women will temporarily be able to take both pills for early medical abortion in their own homes without the need to attend a hospital or clinic, health secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

The move was in response to a number of organisations who wrote to the health secretary urging him to amend the law during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak to stop non-essential travel of women to undergo an abortion.

The new measures make the home, whether that of the patient or medical practitioner, a suitable venue to take both abortion pills, confirmed the Department of Health and Social Care.

This is in order to terminate pregnancies up to nine weeks and won’t require women or girls to attend a hospital or clinic first.

Consultations with a doctor can also take place via a video link or telephone, rather than face-to-face, says the document.

Prior to the announcement, abortions in England could only be carried out in a hospital, by a specialist provider or a licensed clinic and needed to be approved by two doctors to certify that the abortion being carried out did not breach the terms of the Abortion Act 1967.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, said: “This is a welcome and necessary step to ensure people can self-manage abortions at home, particularly during the current global health pandemic.

“Allowing both pills to be taken at home gives women the dignity and space to safely end their pregnancy and must become a permanent healthcare option.”

Amnesty UK is urging the same provisions to be extended to women in Northern Ireland. “The current situation with Covid-19 has created additional barriers and hardships that means travelling for this healthcare is no longer a safe or viable option,” said Teggart.

Earlier today, a number of health bodies wrote to the health secretary urging him to change the law so that a single doctor could sign off abortions.

Without this, the organisations warned that women would not be able to access care early, will be forced to present at later gestations, and will risk spreading the coronavirus to themselves or others.

Some of the 13 signatories included the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

Over the next 13 weeks, 44,000 women in England and Wales are estimated to need access to an early medical abortion.

In normal circumstances, the need for two signatures means women can be asked to come to a clinic more than once, or to get a signature from their GP first.

Alternatively, doctors may have to physically find another doctor to provide the second authorisation.

The letter reads: “In normal circumstances, this aspect of the law may be clinically unnecessary but it is the law nonetheless and we make the best of the situation.

“In the current circumstances with Covid-19 meaning doctors are self-isolating or off sick and the NHS under immense pressure, it wastes valuable time, puts everyone at greater risk of spreading or contracting coronavirus and risks our ability to provide abortion care at all.”

It continues: “As Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, regardless of how controversial a topic you may consider this to be, you must recognise the unacceptable impact on any woman forced to continue a pregnancy for want of a second doctor to sign off a form.”

Independent abortion providers account for almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of procedures, and this proportion is expected to rise, as pressure on the NHS increases during the Covid-19 outbreak.

They rely on the equivalent of just 20 full-time doctors, of which 70 per cent also work in the NHS, and so are more likely to be in contact with people with Covid-19.

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