Right to Life UK said there was “overwhelming support” to end the temporary policy, with 70% of consultation respondents backing an immediate end. Only 22% said the policy should be made permanent.
Both Clinical Commissioning Groups, which are groups of general medical practices, and National Health Service trusts said that “the temporary measure had increased presentations to emergency departments and that other general hospital services, such as ambulance services, had been impacted by the temporary measure.” They also emphasized concerns about risk to safeguarding prospective patients, including people with learning disabilities.
On the matter of women’s safety, respondents cited the danger of “women being coerced into an abortion when they are not physically being seen in a service.”
Among women who had had a “do-it-yourself” abortion, 45% saw benefits for safeguarding and women’s safety in requiring at least one in-person visit with a clinician, while 22% saw disadvantages.
The consultation outcome reported that safeguarding organizations see “very significant advantages” for at least one clinician assessment for all women under age 18 and for those under 25 who are now or have been under compulsory supervision or in the foster care system.
Safeguarding organizations “also expressed the view that face-to-face clinical assessment reduces the risk from those who sexually exploit children, manipulate the system or force their victims to obtain an abortion. Some individual health professionals reported that safeguarding is improved when patients are seen in person,” the summary said.
Abortion policy is a devolved issue in the U.K., meaning it is governed by separate laws in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. A Scottish government consultation found only 17% of respondents favored continuing the pandemic policy on medication abortion, according to Right to Life UK.
Backers of abortion access, including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, have advocated for the relaxed policy on medication abortion to be made permanent.
Other supporters include the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the British Medical Association, who were joined by some women’s groups in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. They said that ending the temporary rule shows a “deep distrust of women and an institutional disregard for their reproductive rights,” the U.K. newspaper The Independent reports.
Their letter said about 2,000 women a week secure medication under the current rules.
When the relaxed policy was first announced, it drew criticism from Bishop John Sherrington, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and the English and Welsh Catholic bishops’ spokesman on life issues. He said the change was shocking and did not prioritize the wellbeing of women.
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“(T)hese measures further endanger women who, for example, are rushed into decisions by abusive partners and act without any proper consultation,” he said in March 2020. “They diminish the seriousness with which these decisions should be taken and the physical and psychological dangers of the administration of these drugs at home.”