At-home abortion is a disservice to women
Abortion providers cannot ensure that the pills they prescribe are taken within the appropriate time frame, increasing the risk of severe complications and late abortions.
It is now over a year since temporary measures to allow ‘at-home’ abortions during the Coronavirus pandemic were introduced in England, Scotland, and Wales, without public consultation or adequate parliamentary scrutiny. The range of issues women and girls have experienced following this provision and attempts to implement a similar policy in Northern Ireland, call for an urgent government review.
Legalising the taking of both abortion pills at home, unsupervised, following a telephone consultation typifies poor clinical practice. As it is impossible to ensure the woman is on her own during a phone consultation, this policy has increased the risk of women being coerced into an abortion.
Similarly, as a wholly accurate diagnosis of gestational age is not possible without an in-person assessment, abortion providers cannot ensure that the pills they prescribe are taken within the appropriate time frame, increasing the risk of severe complications and late abortions.
A leaked NHS email has revealed several incidents of women accessing emergency departments following home abortions for ruptured ectopic pregnancies, resuscitation for major haemorrhage, and ‘significant pain’. The email also mentions a murder investigation over a ‘concern that the baby was live born’, as well as a case regarding a woman sent abortion pills who was found to be 22 weeks beyond the legal limit for home abortion in England and Wales. Reports of a police investigation into the death of an unborn baby at 28 weeks gestation related to the pills-by-post abortion service (alongside eight other cases under investigation by BPAS) also made headlines.
This policy has increased the risk of women being coerced into an abortion
Recent data requests reveal that an average of 36 women a month in England and Wales made 999 calls after experiencing complications from ‘at-home’ abortion pills. A recent Sky News documentary on the scheme stated that “5% of women who have at-home abortions will suffer complications that may need follow-up treatment or surgery”. Such complications present an even greater threat to women in rural areas where access to emergency healthcare is more challenging.
A nurse who experienced extreme complications from an ‘at-home’ abortion that required follow-up surgery expressed her shock that “the UK, with all of our research and expertise, would approve this… it just feels like we are going backwards and that… covid is an excuse to not treat women with respect”.
Recent polling demonstrated the overwhelming majority of women and GPs remain anxious about ‘at-home’ abortion. In England, 86% of women expressed concern about the risk of women being coerced into an abortion during the ‘at-home’ abortion process, and 83% were concerned about abortion pills being falsely obtained for another person. Similar results were revealed by polling in Scotland.
Removing these safeguards is especially concerning considering the potential for abortion coercion. Indeed, a staggering 7% of British women have been pressured into an abortion by their husband or partner. Surely these women deserve to be afforded full protection under the law? Yet rather than safeguarding their liberties, ‘pills-by-post’ heavily decreases the chance of detecting whether a woman or girl is in an abusive situation.
A matter of days before the government’s backpedalling, they seemed to agree with such concerns. Indeed, on 25 March 2020, Health Minister Lord Bethell outlined that the government believed it “an essential safeguard that a woman attends a clinic, to ensure that she has an opportunity to be seen alone and to ensure that there are no issues”.
It is time for the government to follow the evidence and end this disastrous temporary policy.
Carla Lockhart is the DUP MP for Upper Bann.
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