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Lords Move To Overturn "Unjustifiable" Government Decision To End At-Home Abortion Services

Lords Move To Overturn 'Unjustifiable' Government Decision To End At-Home Abortion Services
4 min read

The Conservative peer Baroness Sugg has tabled an amendment to the Health and Care Bill, seeking to make permanent the temporary at-home early abortion services that were brought in during the pandemic.

In March 2020 then-health secretary Matt Hancock approved a temporary measure to allow women and girls to use telemedicine services to access Early Medical Abortion at home using “pills by post”. 

Following a consultation via telephone or video link, individuals wanting to terminate their pregnancy up to 10 weeks can be sent both doses of abortion pills to take at home, without the need to first attend a hospital or clinic. The measure was introduced as part of the national effort to reduce the spread of Covid by keeping the public at home. 

Prior to its introduction, women were legally required to take the first course of two rounds abortion medication in a hospital or clinic. But Last month, the department for health and social care (DHSC) announced that abortion services in England will return to pre-pandemic arrangements from the end of August. 

The decision, according to government, follows the results of a public consultation carried out between November 2020 and February 2021 on whether pandemic abortion services should be made permanent. The consultation received 18,000 responses. Strong responses were submitted from both pro-choice and anti-abortion campaigners, and while the consultation leaned toward the latter, warning were issued that the consultation was self-selecting.

Now an amendment tabled Conservative peer Baroness Sugg seeks to overturn what she described as an “unjustifiable” move by government to end at-home provision for medical abortion will be debated in the House of Lords tomorrow.

It has the support of cross-party peers, including the members of the Labour and Liberal Democrats front bench.

If the amendment passes, MPs will be given a vote on whether women should retain the right to have an early medical abortion in their homes.

“I want to do what is right for women by giving them the option of being able to continue the service like they do in the US, Wales and elsewhere,” Sugg told PoliticsHome. 

“There is an ever-growing body of evidence proving that this is the right thing to do. It’s safe, effective, better for women, better for the NHS and better for providers.”

Women’s rights activists and medical specialists have described the department for health’s decision as “absolutely baffling” and “devastating”. 

Questions have also been raised about the fairness of the department for health taking into consideration the views of hard-line religious groups and anti-choice activists, as well as individuals who are not affected by the physical ramifications of an unwanted pregnancy. 

“It’s going to be devastating,” Katherine O’Brien, director of communications at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service told PoliticsHome.

Already the charity has received calls from individuals concerned about how the change could affect them and other women in vulnerable circumstances in the future, who for a variety of reasons would be unable to attend a clinic. 

“DHSC should listen to the science and listen to women,” O’Brien added.

“I would point to the fact that the majority of women in the UK want this to stay in place. 

“These are the people government should be listening to, and not anti-choice groups.”

Since pills by post was legalised around 150,000 women have safely used the service.

“I think it's pretty unjustifiable [to take it away],” Sugg told PoliticsHome. 

“All the medical experts and women's rights groups absolutely think it should be kept on,” she added. 

Sugg told PoliticsHome she would be willing to “compromise” with government and withdraw her amendment if they agree to an evidence-led review on at-home abortions while current regulations continue. 

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service told PoliticsHome that if Sugg’s amendment does not pass through the Lords or Commons, it will consider the option of launching a judicial review into the matter. 

Catherine Robinson, a spokesperson for the anti-abortion campaign group Right To Life, said they were "disappointed" that at-home provision for EMA was not being ended sooner, in March as was originally proposed because they believed women were being put at risk. 

"We do welcome the Government’s decision to ensure that women get an in-person appointment before having an abortion and make sure no more women are put at risk by the temporary provision from 30 August 2022," they added. 

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