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Access to home abortions relaxed during coronavirus outbreak after confusion over guidance

Women will be able to access an abortion at home during the pandemic (PA)

2 min read

The Government will relax the rules on how women can access an abortion at home during the coronavirus outbreak.

It comes after new guidance was issued last week then hastily deleted, with officials saying there was no plan to change the regulations.

But the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has now confirmed the policy has been altered, meaning women can keep control of their reproductive rights while maintaining social distancing amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Those looking to have a termination but cannot visit a hospital or clinic can now hold a consultation with a doctor over the phone or via video-link.

The two pills required for an Early Medical Abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy - mifepristone and misoprostol - can then be sent by post. 

Existing rules on abortions in England mean they can only be carried out at a licensed clinic, hospital or specialist provider, and must be approved by two doctors.

But confirming a change to the terms of the Abortion Act 1967, a spokesman for DHSC said: “Public safety and continued access to key services is our priority during this difficult period.

“We are updating our guidance so women who need an abortion up to ten weeks and can’t access a clinic can use abortion pills at home.

“This measure will be on a temporary basis and must follow a telephone or e-consultation with a doctor. We will set out the next steps, including updated guidance, shortly.”

The changes, which will be in place for two years or until the pandemic crisis is over, were welcomed by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

The group’s CEO, Ann Furedi, said: "We welcome the confirmation we have received today that the government will re-instate telemedicine for Early Medical Abortion in England. 

“This will prevent tens of thousands of women from having to travel needlessly to clinics and will also enable many of our healthcare professionals to provide teleconsultations and prescriptions from the safety of their own homes.”

The measures had initially been sent out last week, but were then deleted from the department’s website, saying it had been “published in error”, prompting anger from campaigners.

And in the Commons the health secretary said “there are no proposals to change the abortion rules due to Covid-19” after the issue was raised by multiple MPs.

But they have now agreed to make the changes, which the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it will “reduce pressure on the health system, limit Covid-19 risk for women and health workers and ensure safe and timely access to abortion care”.

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