Abortion consultation: government may remove access to at-home terminations post lockdown - how to have your say

Telemedical abortions have been permitted during the pandemic – but the rules may change post-lockdown.
Consultations have been held via the phone or video calls.Consultations have been held via the phone or video calls.
Consultations have been held via the phone or video calls.

The ability to legally terminate a pregnancy at home in England may be removed following a government consultation.

In April 2020, the coronavirus pandemic prompted temporary measures which allowed women to take both pills for early medical abortion (EMA) at home.

As lockdown eases, the government are considering revoking these measures and returning to the previous law which states that the first of two abortion pills must be taken at an abortion service.

What is at-home abortion?

At-home abortion - sometimes called “telemedical abortion” - involves termination of a pregnancy entirely at home.

Telemedical abortion was introduced in April 2020 to make sure women could still access abortion during the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of visiting a hospital or clinic for a consultation with a doctor, those wanting an abortion instead had a telephone or e-consultation with a clinician.

Once the abortion had been approved by two doctors, abortion pills were sent in the post and taken at home to terminate the pregnancy.

At-home abortion is only available for women in the early stages of pregnancy - up to 10 weeks.

What was the law previously?

Prior to the pandemic, policy stated that the first pill for early medical abortions had to be taken in an abortion clinic, while the second could be taken at home.

Abortions had to be signed off by two doctors before taking place.

Will telemedical abortions remain available?

The government’s temporary measures to allow at-home abortions is time limited for two years or until the pandemic is over - whichever is earliest.

However, with research suggesting that 80 per cent of women prefer telemedical abortion to the requirement of in-person abortion, the government are now considering whether to make the temporary measures permanent.

In December 2020, the government launched a consultation on at-home abortion, asking the public for their views on making the measures permanent.

The consultation closed at the end of February, but the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is now urging people to write to their local MP to ensure at-home abortion remains available.

What impact has at-home abortion had?

Campaigners and charities like BPAS say that at-home abortions allow more women who need terminations to access them.

At-home abortion may be particularly beneficial for poorer women who don’t have the time nor means to get to an abortion clinic.

Research from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has also suggested that waiting times between consultation and abortion were reduced from 10.7 days to 6.5 days through the telemedical service.

Their research showed that at-home abortions have been safe, with no cases of serious infection and no deaths as a result of abortion pills taken at home.

How can I have my say?

BPAS is asking people to write to their MP if they would like to see the temporary measures extended.

At this link, they have provided a template letter and postcode finder to see who your local MP is.

The letter asks your local MP to consult with Minister of State for social care, Helen Whately, to make the temporary measures permanent.

Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, said: “Telemedical care has proven to be safe and effective, and should remain an option for women seeking an early medical abortion beyond the pandemic.

“We must never return to forcing women into attending unnecessary in-clinic appointments to undergo needless clinical procedures when they can safely access this care from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. Even outside of the pandemic, women struggle to access clinic appointments due to work, caring responsibilities, disability, and geography. Telemedicine has been particularly important for those in co-ercive relationships who cannot travel to a clinic without their abusive partner finding out. It would be cruel to compel a return to this."