Pre-Covid regulations on at-home and remote abortions will be reinstated in Scotland and England from this year, the government has announced. In a compromise with supporters of the new policy, however, the original end date of the policy of 30 March has been extended by six months to 30 August. In Wales the devolved administration has decided to make pandemic-era norms allowing women to self-administer both stages of a chemical abortion at home, without an in-person appointments, permanent.
The respective announcements followed a public consultation in which 70 per cent of respondents from England and Scotland opposed making said measures permanent. Figures from the Welsh consultation have not yet been released. Women seeking an abortion prior to 10 weeks gestation are usually prescribed a chemical abortion, consisting of two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, only the second of which was sanctioned for home use prior to the pandemic.
Emergency legislation that permitted both pills for home use, and replacing an in-person medical appointment with a telephone discussion, had been dubbed “DIY abortions” by critics. Pro-life campaigners warned that the risk of medical complications, and of coerced abortions, increased sharply with the removal of in-person consultation. NHS figures show that almost six per cent of women who use abortion pills are subsequently treated in hospital for complications.
Supporters of the new regime argue that a return to pre-pandemic requirements will dilute women’s rights, leaving those seeking abortions waiting for clinical appointments, and risking further medical problems. Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of the pro-choice British Pregnancy Advice Service, termed the decision to return to pre-pandemic rules “a decision devoid of both evidence or justice”.
Opponents of at-home abortion disagree, with Michael Robinson, the executive director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, welcoming the end of what he termed a “cruel” policy. “The DIY abortion scheme has inflicted untold damage to countless mothers and their unborn babies,” he said.
Steps by the Welsh government to preserve at-home abortion have proven similarly controversial, with the minister in charge describing the decision as “progressive”. This met with criticism from pro-life comemnetators, with Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, stating that the “dangerous measures” put women at risk.
In 2020, 209,917 abortions were carried out in the UK: the highest number on record since the practice was legalised in 1967. Figures for 2021 have not yet been released. According to research published in the British Medical Journal, abortion is very likely to have increased worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic due to economic uncertainty and women’s increased exposure to sexual violence during lockdown.