Hours after they were published online, Britain’s Department of Health has retracted changes to the country’s abortion laws that would have allowed women to complete a chemical abortion at home, without going to a hospital or clinic first.
“This was published in error. There will be no changes to abortion regulations,” a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told The Independent, five hours after the purported changes appeared on the UK government’s official website.
The retracted order would have allowed women to terminate pregnancies via abortion pills for up to nine weeks of pregnancy, and would not have required women to attend a hospital or clinic first, The Independent reported.
Amid the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) and strict social distancing orders, doctors would have been able to prescribe mifepristone and misoprostol via “video link” or telephone.
“This radical and most disturbing policy would… have placed more women at risk. The removal of any direct medical supervision overseeing the use of both abortion pills could have seen a rise of physical and physiological complications experienced by women,” John Smeaton, Chief Executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children UK, said.
The order appeared to be a response to a letter from several UK medical groups, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), urging the Health Secretary to allow women to seek approval to self-administer the abortion pill via telemedicine.
The page on the UK government’s website has been taken down, with a message in its place reiterating “there will be no changes to abortion regulations.”
“We have no proposals to change any abortion rules as part of the COVID-19 response,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
UK abortion law mandates that abortions only be carried out in a hospital, by a specialist provider or at a licensed clinic, with the approval of two doctors.
A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labour.
Since December 2018, under UK government guidelines, women are allowed to self-administer the second pill for medical abortions at home.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has been recommending a nationwide expansion of abortion drug accessibility through the use of telemedicine since before the COVID-19 outbreak, most recently during December 2019.
The Society for the Protection of the Unborn Children lamented the RCOG’s recommendations at the time, arguing that it underestimates the potential risks of abortion drugs.
“The RCOG is playing fast and loose with women’s health. Their approach is propaganda to deceive women into thinking that abortion pills are safe and simple. They are neither,” said Antonia Tully, SPUC Campaigns Director.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced additional social distancing measures soon after the abortion order was removed, mandating a strict stay-at-home order with exceptions for grocery shopping, exercise alone once per day, and work if absolutely necessary.
The Independent has estimated that over the next three months, 44,000 women in England and Wales will seek an early medical abortion.
In the United States, several states including Ohio and Texas have cancelled “all non-essential or elective surgeries,” which applies to most abortions, drawing praise from pro-life groups.
Failure to comply with the Texas executive order could mean fines of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.
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