Press Release

Christian Concern to appeal judgment on government U-turn on ‘DIY’ abortions

19 May 2020         Issued by: Christian Concern

The decision by the government to allow women to have medical abortions at home with only a phone or video consultation, has been upheld by Lord Justice Singh in a judgment handed down at the High Court this afternoon (19 May).

Christian Concern intends to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Concern, said: “Today’s judgment is disappointing but not the end of the road. The evidence in this case clearly shows the abortion industry exerting overwhelming pressure on the Department of Health with misleading information.

“While Parliament was shut down, clear promises and assurances were broken by the government on flimsy, biased and incomplete evidence given by abortion industry insiders with access to top civil service activists and, in particular, Andrea Duncan.

“The general public should be appalled that the Civil Service has been hijacked by the abortion industry and ministers have become powerless in the face of it.

“This is not an academic matter. As the government said itself, this policy puts many vulnerable women at risk.

“We intend to appeal this judgment in order to preserve our hard-won democratic freedoms which do not allow the government to make dangerous changes to the law without proper evidence or parliamentary scrutiny.”

Advice to Matt Hancock was ‘misleading’ says former Marie Stopes director 

Misleading evidence was used by abortion providers and their allies in the civil service to strong-arm the government into allowing home abortions, the High Court was told.

In today’s High Court hearing, Michael Phillips, representing Christian Concern, has argued that civil servants failed to give Matt Hancock honest and impartial advice, and instead presented skewed evidence that led to a dangerous and anti-parliamentary U-turn.

Despite assurances to Parliament that home abortions would not be permitted under lockdown, the government changed course on 30 March while Parliament was shut down. Lord Bethell, on behalf of the government had previously told Parliament that in-person visits were an ‘essential safeguard’ for women.

Documents shown to court reveal that Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, saw the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to ask for what BPAS wanted anyway: to expand abortion provision into women’s homes. Discussions between abortion providers and the DoH took place in March, culminating in the publication of a new policy on 23 March.

The new regulations permitting ‘DIY’ abortion were initially published just before national lockdown but were pulled hours later. Evidence given to court suggests that the policy was signed off by Health Minister Helen Whately without Mr Hancock’s approval.

The Health Secretary made his opposition to the policy clear the following day, saying “The change is not happening”.

A witness statement given by Head of policy for Alcohol, Sexual and Reproductive Health at the Department of Social Care, Andrea Duncan, shows that sustained pressure followed from abortion providers to accept home abortions, leading to the eventual U-turn.

‘Misleading’ advice led to decision

In court, lawyer Michael Phillips representing Christian Concern, produced witness statements to argue that the government’s decision-making process was unlawful, undemocratic and unsafe for thousands of pregnant women at an already highly vulnerable time.

Lord Justice Singh and Mr Justice Chamberlain considered a witness statement of Kevin Duffy, who between 2014-2017 worked for global abortion provider Marie Stopes International as the Global Director of Clinics Development.

Mr Duffy described Andrea Duncan’s statement on how her team at the DSHC had advised ministers as ‘misleading’ and said that it omitted key information which would have helped the government’s decision-making process. After Mr Hancock told Parliament that he would not change the abortion rules, Ms Furedi emailed Ms Duncan calling this a “bizarre decision to cause women travel to stand in a clinic foyer to swallow a pill that could have been sent to her at home.” The Ministers were not told that in fact, the visit to the clinic would involve a number of important tests, for example, an ultrasound to determine the gestational age.

In his witness statement, Mr Duffy explained that there are several studies highlighting the risk of telemedicine abortions. One in particular, a cohort study published in BJOJ in 2019, found increased risks of hospital visits from abortion with telemedicine. This study found that one-in-nine women taking the abortion pills at home needed a surgical intervention to complete their abortion.

This was backed by expert witness, Dr Gregory Gardner’s assessment that the government’s decision to allow home abortions, risked serious harm and injury to women as well as increased risk of coercion to have an abortion.

Witnesses also included former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe who said: “Parliament was told one thing. Government is doing another and that says it all.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “What we have heard in court today has revealed the relentless influence of the abortion industry at the heart of UK government.

“We should all be concerned with the lack of transparency, and frankly honesty and integrity, with how these measures were brought in.

“It must be exposed for the good of democracy, for the good of women and to protect our lives, and the lives of future generations.”

The U-turn – what happened?

Andrea Duncan’s statement revealed that the abortion industry had been pressurising the government to allow home abortion without proper medical supervision throughout March in response to the challenges of coronavirus.

On 3 March 2020, Miss Duncan was copied into a letter from Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, addressed to the Secretary of State for Health, the Minister for Care (Helen Whately) and the Chief Medical Officer, Prof. Chris Whitty.

Miss Furedi, highlighted the work that BPAS were doing to prepare for the Coronavirus pandemic including “risk-assessing the continued provision of our services in circumstances where women who need to terminate a pregnancy may be unable to attend treatment units, and also when units may be short of staff, or need to close”.

A telephone meeting followed on 10 March, which was attended by BPAS, Marie Stopes UK (MSUK), National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service (NUPAS), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Public Health England and Scottish and Welsh Government officials. It recorded the view of the external bodies who attended that there ought to be home use for both abortion pills for Early Medical Abortion (EMA) up to 10 weeks gestation.

On March 18, a submission was sent to Ministers recommending that the power to approve women’s homes as a class of place where both abortion pills could be taken for EMA, and for the home of a registered medical practitioner as a class of place where both abortion pills can be prescribed for the treatment of EMA.

Andrea Duncan’s statement revealed that this was agreed by the Minister of State for Care, Helen Whately and the legislation was then published hours before national lockdown on 23 March.

Emails disclosed in Miss Duncan’s statement revealed how later that evening, Matt Hancock became aware of the legislation and demanded that it be pulled.

The following message on the government website subsequently appeared: “The information on this page has been removed because it was published in error. This was published in error. There will be no changes to abortion regulations”.

In her statement, Miss Duncan revealed an email from Matt Hancock’s office on 24 March which said:

“The Secretary of State has just reviewed the submission and decided that he does not want any changes to abortion. He has asked for a letter to be sent to all of the recipients of the first letter along the lines of: Sorry, this letter was sent in error. The change is not happening.”

The same day, Matt Hancock had stated on the floor of the House of Commons that there would be no change to abortion law in parliament.

As the Coronavirus Bill was brought before the House of Lords on Wednesday 25 March, Health Minister, Lord Bethell, had also rejected on behalf of the government the proposed changes to abortion law, stating:

“….we do not agree that women should be able to take both treatments for medical abortion at home. We believe that it is an essential safeguard that a woman attends a clinic, to ensure that she has an opportunity to be seen alone and to ensure that there are no issues.

He added: “The bottom line is that, if there is an abusive relationship and no legal requirement for a doctor’s involvement, it is far more likely that a vulnerable woman could be pressured into have an abortion by an abusive partner.”

Despite the promises and reassurances, following Lord Bethell’s speech, Andrea Duncan’s witness statement revealed that Matt Hancock’s office requested ‘a short note’ on other options for women to access abortion.

Mounting pressure from Ann Furedi and Richard Bentley, UK managing director of Marie Stopes followed, culminating on 28 March with an open letter signed by 55 public health specialists urging the Secretary of State to enable telemedicine for EMA so that pregnant women who wanted an abortion would not have to leave their homes during the pandemic.

An email from Matt Hancock’s office on the evening of 28 March to his department revealed that the government was prepared to U-turn, that the Sunday Times were being briefed, and that ‘No.10 were happy with this.’

The news followed in the Sunday Times on 29 March and on Monday 30 March, the government officially approved the home of a pregnant woman as a place where early medical abortion could take place.

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