Women and girls in England, Scotland, and Wales are now temporarily able to receive both stages of the abortion pills by post. The change comes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and current lockdown measures in the UK. Unfortunately, this service is not available in Northern Ireland.
On Monday, 23 March, the government published a document that temporarily allowed women and girls to medically terminate early pregnancies at home, by taking two pills. Within hours of releasing the news, the government u-turned on the decision and said it had been "published in error". The response from medical organisations and family planning charities was swift.
In a joint letter, The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (plus 15 other medical professionals and organisations) appealed to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to amend the law.
"As you are aware, the current law on abortion requires that two doctors provide signatures to certify that the abortion being carried out does not breach the terms of the Abortion Act 1967," the letter says. "In normal circumstances, the requirement for two doctors' signatures — particularly in the NHS — means that women may be asked to return to a clinic more than once . . . 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." The letter continues to explain that the professionals are not requesting a permanent change of legislation but a temporary provision that allows women to safely have an early medical abortion without spreading the virus.
On 30 March, temporary approval of home use for both stages of early medical abortion was granted. This is a huge change to the typical abortion process. With the current amendment, doctors are able to prescribe both pills required for a medical abortion, meaning that women and girls are not required to visit a clinic or hospital as long as they fit the criteria set by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) confirmed to The Independent that the telemedicine was now available for women to take up to week 10 of pregnancy, so women can self-nominate themselves for an abortion (rather than being referred by a doctor) and contact the BPAS for a phone consultation with a trained nurse or midwife. Later terminations may still require a surgical abortion in a clinic.
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