Urgent Abortion Law Campaign
We must urge the government to ensure abortion is sufficiently accessible during the Covid-19 pandemic.
BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service- who provide abortion and sexual health services in Scotland, England and Wales) have reported that a quarter of their clinics have already had to close due to staff being ill or having to self-isolate. They also say further closures among NHS services are expected today – and it has already been reported that abortion services in some hospitals are struggling to keep up with demand. And we are only at the very beginning of the government’s new measures.
This is not the place to go into the specifics of abortion law in the UK. In short, before an abortion can be carried out, two doctors must ensure that that the requirements of the Abortion Act are fulfilled and the procedure must be carried out in a hospital or licensed clinic.
Over the next 13 weeks, 44,000 people will need an early medical abortion. Early medical abortions can be carried out up to 10 weeks of pregnancy and involves taking two different medications, usually around 48 hours apart. This could be done at home were it not for the law unnecessarily requiring it be done in a clinic or hospital. Due to clinic closures, people needing an abortion may have to travel to further away clinics, using public transport. That’s potentially 44,000 people forced to use public transport unnecessarily, when an alternative is available: allow them to access a telemedicine service and take the pills at home. This could also force some particularly vulnerable people – who have been advised to self-isolate for the next 12 weeks – to make the very difficult decision between accessing necessary healthcare on one hand and following official advice to protect themselves from Covid-19 on the other.
It is thought that the coming period may see an increase in demand for abortion for reasons including financial hardship, relationship breakdown and lack of access to contraception.
Only a couple of days ago, the government announced that the two pills necessary for an early medical abortion would be permitted to be taken at home, but that announcement was quickly reversed. A number of organisations have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to change the law, including The Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and BPAS.
Other areas with similar rules have been relaxed. The second confirmatory medical certificate required for a cremation to take place is no longer required and now only one doctor is required to section a mentally unwell patient (where previously two were required). As well as allowing at-home early medical abortions, BPAS wants the two doctor requirement to be reduced to one. If 44,000 abortions are sought in the next 13 weeks, that means 88,000 signatures from doctors. This is unnecessary in general – it is not standard for a medical procedure for a patient with capacity to consent to require approval of two doctors – and especially so during the peak of the virus where the medical profession will already be under strain.
It is extremely important that abortion services remain accessible during this period. To help the campaign for safe, legal, at-home abortions, BPAS advises that you can tweet the Prime Minister with a tweet they have drafted, email the Prime Minister’s office and email your MP with their pre-written email.