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Senior Tories Urge MPs To Overturn "Misjudged" End Of At-Home Abortion Services

4 min read

Exclusive: Senior Tory MPs have pledged support for an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would force government to U-turn on its “misjudged” policy to end at-home early abortion services.

Father of the house Sir Peter Bottomley, and former ministers Caroline Nokes and Crispin Blunt, have urged fellow Conservative MPs to vote for the amendment, which is set to be put to the Commons on Wednesday, so women can continue to be offered the “safe, effective, and compassionate form of abortion care”.

In March 2020 then-health secretary Matt Hancock approved a temporary measure to allow the use of telemedicine services to access early medical abortion at home using “pills by post”. 

Following a consultation with a doctor 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. Prior to its introduction, women were legally required to take the first course of two rounds abortion medication in a hospital or clinic. 

However, 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. 

In a joint editorial published today by The House, Nokes, Blunt and Bottomley, said it was "right to put women’s safety first” by allowing them continued access to early medical abortion at home. 

"This amendment gives Parliament the chance to listen to women about their own healthcare," the senior Tories wrote.

"We encourage all MPs who believe in evidence-based policymaking and women’s reproductive rights to vote in support of the amendment, so that doctors and nurses can continue offering this safe, effective, and compassionate form of abortion care for all who choose it."

The decision to end at-home access to early medical abortion follows a public consultation carried out between November 2020 and February 2021, which received 18,000 responses. Strong views were submitted from both pro-choice and anti-abortion campaigners, and while the consultation leaned toward the latter, warnings were issued that the consultation was self-selecting.

This month an amendment tabled by the Conservative peer Baroness Sugg, seeking to reverse DHSC’s decision to make at-home abortion services permanent, passed through the Lords.

Sugg told PoliticsHome government’s decision to end the service is “unjustifiable”. 

“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,” the peer said.

Since its introduction, over 40,000 women across Britain have had safe early medical abortions following telemedical consultations.   

A poll conducted for Savanta Com-Res in December last year found 65% of women across the UK want telemedicine to remain as a permanent option beyond the pandemic.

Nokes, Blunt and Bottomley questioned whether support from the medical community and members of the public had been sufficiently reflected in the government's decision to end at-home medical abortion services. 

“Those of us who believe that abortion, like all medical care, should be delivered in line with the best clinical standards are alarmed by the government’s disregard for clinical opinion on this,” they  continued. 

“For a government proud of its global clinical leadership and its record on gender equality, removing the option of telemedicine is a grave misjudgement.”

Downing Street has confirmed that Tory MPs will be given a free vote on Sugg's amendement on Wednesday. 

Traditionally MPs are given the option to “vote with their conscience” on matters such as abortion. 

A spokesperson for Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told PoliticsHome that if government does not accept the Sugg amendment, Labour will vote in support of it. 

An online parliament petition urging government to maintain provisions for pills by post has amassed more than 14,000 signatures. 

Research conducted by the British Medical Journal has found that since telemedicine was introduced, requests for abortion pills from to illicit providers in the UK Britain has fallen by 88%.

Louise McCudden, public affairs advisor at leading UK abortion provider MSI Reproductive Choices also urged MPs to back the amendment if it is brought to the Commons. “We call on MPs to listen to the evidence, the guidance of medical bodies and to women, and vote in favour of the amendment, which would make telemedicine available permanently,” she said. 

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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