Members of Parliament have voted to make permanent a policy adopted during the coronavirus pandemic that allows British women to self-administer both doses of abortion drugs at home, without visiting a medical clinic.
The House of Commons vote on an amendment to the Health and Care Bill 2021 was 215 to 188.
“The group of MPs who have voted for this amendment have voted to remove vital safeguards including an in-person appointment with a medical professional. This will put thousands more women at risk from ‘DIY’ home abortion services,” said Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right to Life UK.
“By removing a routine in-person consultation that allows medical practitioners to certify gestation and recognise 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,” she added.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “This vote will have dire consequences for women, who will not receive the proper medical support they need and more easily be coerced by partners and family members.
“The vote in Parliament today sends a message to women in crisis pregnancies that this is the best we can offer you – to have a traumatic and unsafe abortion home, often alone, without any clinical examination or private in-person conversation,” she said.
The amendment had been introduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Sugg, a member of the Conservative Party. The upper house had approved her amendment by a 75-35 vote in mid-March.
Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said soon afterward: “It is shocking that the House of Lords have supported an amendment that will end the lives of innocent unborn children, with total disregard for the health of those women using this system. I urge all MP’s to reject this bill and protect human life.”
The British government had decided last month to extend the policy only temporarily, until Aug. 30, in England. It had earlier been due to expire March 30.
A government consultation found strong criticism of the policy, including concerns that medication abortions weakened protections for sexually exploited minors or other women who are manipulated or coerced into abortion.
Maggie Throup, Minister for Vaccines and Public Health, said in February: “After careful consideration, the government’s view is that the provision of early medical abortion should return to pre-Covid arrangements.”
She said the government’s “first and foremost priority” is “the wellbeing and safety of women requiring access to abortion services.”
A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of mifepristone and misoprostol.
Mifepristone effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. Misoprostol is taken up to two days later and induces labour.
The law had already permitted women to take the second drug at home, after taking the first at a medical clinic with a face-to-face consultation with a doctor.
In March 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic began, the Department for Health announced it would to allow women to complete medication abortions at home in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. The temporary rules allowed women to access the drugs without first visiting a clinic. A telephone or online consultation was considered sufficient.
This policy was initially presented as lasting for two years or until the end of the coronavirus crisis.
A public consultation, held between November 2020 and February 2021, gathered opinions on whether the policy should be made permanent. Some commentators said the danger of domestic abuse was a problem, BBC News reports.
Both Clinical Commissioning Groups, which are groups of general medical practices, and National Health Service trusts said that “the temporary measure had increased presentations to emergency departments and that other general hospital services, such as ambulance services, had been impacted by the temporary measure.” They also emphasized concerns about risk to safeguarding prospective patients, including people with learning disabilities.
On the matter of women’s safety, respondents cited the danger of “women being coerced into an abortion when they are not physically being seen in a service.”
Backers of abortion access, including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which runs the largest chain of abortion clinics in the UK, had advocated for the relaxed policy on medication abortion to be made permanent.
(Photo: Flickr/Ernesto Andrade via CNA)
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