Roll-back of at-home abortion services could lead to 14 women a week seeking unsafe and illegal terminations, say campaigners

Some 14 women a week could resort to seeking illegal abortions if the Government rolls back a scheme allowing them to terminate pregnancies at home, say campaigners.

At-home abortions were made available last year at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to keep people away from clinics.

The service, which was due to run for two years or until the end of the pandemic, involves pregnant women having telephone appointments with clinicians and being sent a pill to terminate the pregnancy at home.

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But the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) says the at-home service could still be rolled back, saying the Department of Health has failed to give any clarification on whether or not they will be continued.

14 women a week could resort to getting illegal abortions if the Government rolls back services allowing them to have them at home, say campaigners
14 women a week could resort to getting illegal abortions if the Government rolls back services allowing them to have them at home, say campaigners

Women's reproductive rights campaigners said free, safe and legal abortions had been made "more accessible than ever" as a result of this service, and data released by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last week shows that 209,917 abortions were carried out in England and Wales last year – the highest figure since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967.

But discontinuing the service, they said, would lead to an estimated 14 women a week seeking abortions illegally online, as many now are not able to attend clinics due to personal circumstances, such as abusive relationships, child and social care duties, disabilities or inflexible jobs.

Hannah Barham-Brown, a Leeds-based GP who is Deputy Leader of the Women's Equality Party, said she was worried the Government was paying "too much attention" to anti-choice protesters following a consultation on the issue between November 2020 and February this year.

"Nobody in the medical world wants this rolled back," she told The Yorkshire Post.

A record number of abortions were carried out in England and Wales last year, Government statistics show

"These at-home abortions have been one small positive to come from the pandemic. They've really brought forwards accessible abortion care and reproductive rights for patients.

"What we are worried about is that the Government is listening to anti-choice campaigners who care nothing about women having autonomy over their own bodies."

Clare Murphy, Chief Executive at BPAS, said: “Forcing women to attend clinics when it isn’t clinically required impacts those who live considerable distances away and rely on public transport, women with childcare commitments or precarious employment, as well as those in abusive relationships whose movements are closely watched.

"Women in these circumstances were previously left with little choice but to access pills illegally online - with legal, supportive services now available we know requests to online providers have dried up."

Hannah Barham-Brown, a Leeds-based GP, says abortion care has become 'more accessible than ever' because of the pandemic

Although abortions are legal and free under the NHS in the UK, accessing pills through non-official providers online is illegal.

Ms Murphy added: “The Government is currently considering whether to retain this service or re-criminalise early abortion at home. The Health Secretary has frequently lauded the benefits of telemedicine and given the huge improvements we have seen as a result of being able to provide abortion in this way, it would be a travesty if this was taken away from women who need it.”

A Department of Health and Social Care Spokesperson said: “Safe and continued access to key services has been, and remains, our priority. The current temporary measures allow eligible women to take both pills for early medical abortion up to 10 weeks’ gestation at home, following a telephone or e-consultation with a clinician.

“The government’s consultation on whether to make the current measure permanent has now closed and we are carefully considering all of the responses received, and plan to publish our response later this year.”

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