While the British government has quickly backed away from rules allowing women to complete a medical abortion at home during the coronavirus pandemic, some groups are lobbying to expand legal access to emergency contraception, which can have abortion-causing effects.
The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said consultations for emergency contraception should take place by telephone or video. The drugs are sometimes informally known as the “morning after pill.”
They advise the same consultation practices for contraception prescriptions and for counselling for intrauterine contraceptives and contraceptive implants, the Scottish newspaper The National reports. The faculty, which sets standards in family planning, has also advocated that online contraceptive services be expanded around the UK.
Catholic ethics reject the use of the “morning after pill” to avoid conception following consensual sexual relations, and strongly reject the use of drugs that can kill any newly conceived embryo.
Dr Anne Lashford, vice president of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, said doctors, nurses, and other clinicians in her speciality are being redeployed to help respond to the coronavirus outbreak. She said sexual and reproductive healthcare services were “already operating beyond capacity.”
“It is crucial that we ensure women of all ages can continue to access effective contraception during the crisis, avoiding unplanned pregnancies which will likely lead to added strain on both maternity and abortion services,” Lashford said.
Pro-abortion rights advocates have argued for looser abortion restrictions during the pandemic. Otherwise women “may resort to illegal methods or be compelled to carry unwanted pregnancies to term,” a spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said.
The UK’s Department for Health initially made changes to England’s abortion laws that would have allowed women to complete a chemical abortion at home, without going to a hospital or clinic first. The changes were retracted just hours after they were published.
British Members of Parliament questioned Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons on March 25 about the changes.
Hancock reiterated that the government has no plans to change abortion regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued lockdown orders for the UK with strict social distancing measures enforced.
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.
Women in the UK are already allowed to take the second drug at home, after taking the first at a medical clinic and after obtaining the approval of two doctors, as required by law.
The retracted changes would have allowed women to take both pills at home after consulting with a doctor via video link or by phone.
John Smeaton, Chief Executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children UK, said the proposed policy was “radical and most disturbing” and 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.”
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children UK, a pro-life group, has launched a national and international campaign calling for abortions to be halted during the COVID-19 pandemic.