How coronavirus changed UK abortion law - briefly

Anger as government reverses decision to let women access medical terminations without travelling to a clinic

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The UK government is under fire for backtracking on a law change that would have allowed women to undergo early medical abortions at home during the coronavirus outbreak.

On Monday, the Department of Health published revised guidance stating that “to limit the transmission of coronavirus (Covid-19) and ensure continued access to early medical abortion services”, temporary measures had been approved to let women take pills to terminate an early pregnancy without having to go to a hospital or a clinic.

This is already permitted under Scottish and Welsh law, but current English regulations state that the first of the two pills required for a medical abortion must be collected and taken at a registered medical facility.

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The move to change that stipulation came after “a number of organisations wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock urging him to amend the law”, reports the BBC.

The letter was signed by organisations including the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).

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But just hours after the revised guidance was published on the Gov.UK website, the changes were deleted and replaced with a message saying that the information had been “published in error” and that “there will be no changes to abortion regulations”.

The Department of Health did not clarify how or why the guidance was published and then retracted, reports The Guardian.

A BPAS spokesperson said the charity was “staggered by the reversal”, adding: “We can only assume it is a bureaucratic blunder which will soon be rectified.

“It simply makes no sense at all that as the prime minister was ordering people to stay in their homes last night, the Department of Health was overturning a decision that would have enabled tens of thousands of women to access early abortion care lawfully at home, protecting their own health, that of their families, and that of the doctors, nurses and midwives who care for them.”

Meanwhile, the RCOG and the RCM condemned the backtracking over the abortion law as “reckless”, reports The Independent.

In a joint statement, the two organisations said that allowing women to have abortions at home “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”.

But the U-turn has been welcomed by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which said: “This radical and most disturbing policy would have placed more women at risk.”

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