UK government reverses policy yet again, will allow at-home medical abortions

Pregnancy test ultrasound Credit Atiwich Kaewchum Shutterstock CNA Atiwich Kaewchum/Shutterstock.

Amid the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) and strict social distancing orders in the United Kingdom, the UK government has announced that women will be allowed to perform medical abortions at home until the coronavirus crisis ends.

The announcement drew dismay from pro-life groups in the country, pointing out that medical abortions, procured with a pair of pills, are dangerous for women even when done after a fac-to-face consultation with a doctor.

"It is unconscionable that the Government is contradicting their stance, yet again, to allow women to be taking both stages of the medical abortion at home," Liz Parsons, Director of Advocacy for the UK pro-life charity Life, said March 30.

"It is an absolute disgrace that the abortion lobby should take advantage of the terrible situation we find ourselves in, with Covid-19, to instigate the biggest change to the 1967 Abortion Act we've seen in years, without any public consultation."

Women seeking medical abortions will be allowed to take both abortion pills- mifepristone and misoprostol- at home up to the tenth week of pregnancy, according to a government spokeperson. Doctors would mail the pills to the patient after consulting with them with by telephone or video link.

UK abortion law had previously mandated that abortions only be carried out in a hospital, by a specialist provider or at a licensed clinic, with the approval of two doctors.

The government's decision to allow women to take both abortion pills at home will be limited to to two years or until the end of the coronavirus crisis, the spokesperson said Monday.

"These significant changes will make it nearly impossible to discover underlying mental health issues, coercion or abuse, leaving these women without the real help and support they desperately need," Parsons continued.

"The baby in the womb is one of the most vulnerable human beings in our society. We urge the Government to listen to its own advice and continue to put vulnerable people first."

A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. Misoprostol is taken up to two days later, and induces labor.

Women in the UK are already allowed to take the second drug at home, after taking the first at a medical clinic and after obtaining the approval of two doctors, as required by law.

The newest legal changes come after U.K.'s Department for Health on March 23 announced that the country's abortion laws were changing to allow women to complete a medical abortion at home, and then hours later retracted the announcement.

The change would have applied nationwide but only had practical effect in England. Home administering of medical abortions is already permitted under Scottish and Welsh law, The Week reports.

After the retraction, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the government has no plans to change abortion regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing ire from Members of Parliament and a number of pro-abortion medical groups in the UK.

The Mayo Clinic lists potential risks of medical abortion as including incomplete abortion, heavy and prolonged bleeding, infection, and fever, among other potential complications.

UK pro-abortion groups last week reiterated their support for telemedicine abortions. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists had been recommending a nationwide expansion of abortion drug accessibility through the use of telemedicine since before the COVID-19 outbreak, most recently during December 2019.

"This would have reduced pressure on an already overwhelmed health system, limited risk of coronavirus infection for women, their families and healthcare professionals, while ensuring safe and timely access to abortion care," a Wednesday joint statement from the RCOG and the Royal College of Midwives reads.

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"Inaction is reckless and risks the health and wellbeing of women and frontline [National Health Service] workers."

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children UK, a pro-life group, launched a national and international campaign calling for abortions to be halted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This radical and most disturbing policy would...have placed more women at risk," John Smeaton, Chief Executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children UK, said last week.

"The removal of any direct medical supervision overseeing the use of both abortion pills could have seen a rise of physical and physiological complications experienced by women."

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