Press Release

DIY abortions will cause ‘serious harm’ says expert as urgent application for judicial review filed

21 April 2020         Issued by: Christian Concern

A medical expert and former Conservative government minister Ann Widdecombe have given their backing to Christian Concern’s urgent application for a Judicial Review after the government’s extraordinary double U-turn on DIY abortions.

Dr Gregory Gardner, a longstanding GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, has prepared a report for the High Court challenge, highlighting the risk of serious injury and harm being done to women self-administering abortion drugs, and the risk of pregnant women being coerced into having an abortion.

In a witness statement filed in support of the legal challenge, the Rt Hon. Ann Widdecombe, 72, also details the assurances given to Parliament during a debate on amending the Abortion Act in 1990 that the new power would not be used to legalise self-administration of abortion pills at home.

Miss Widdecombe has said of the government’s U-turn last month: “Parliament was told one thing. Government is doing another and that says it all.”

Christian Concern’s application states that the government acted unlawfully when on March 30 it approved “the home of a pregnant woman” as a class of place where abortion can lawfully take place, despite categorically stating that it would not do so.

The new measures will allow ‘DIY’ abortions to be performed on women by themselves in their homes without the need for a doctor or medical professional to be present.

In its application, Christian Concern wants the dangerous legislation overturned immediately and full disclosure of the government’s decision-making process and rationale.

Government acted against own warnings

The new legislation was announced on 23 March, hours before national lockdown, only for the government to pull it overnight with the tenuous claim that there had been an ‘administrative error.’

Categorical statements followed from Health Minister Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell that there would be no change to abortion rules as part of the government’s response to Covid-19, with warnings that thousands of women would be put at risk with such a move.

Despite its own warnings, on 30 March the government announced the most significant change to abortion law since the 1967 Abortion Act.

Before this legislation, abortions could only take place in hospitals or abortion clinics approved by the Secretary of State.

Under the new ‘temporary’ policy, doctors will be able to prescribe mifepristone and misoprostol over the phone or video platforms such as Facetime or Skype.

No consideration on coercion risks

The urgent application filed on Thursday 16 April in the High Court against the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, includes a witness statement from Dr Gregory Gardner, a longstanding GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham.

In his expert witness statement he said that: “The introduction of home abortions as proposed (notwithstanding the presence of a Covid-19 pandemic) is a policy that is more likely than not to depart from the essential tenets of duty of care through proper clinical assessment, thereby raising the risk of serious injury and harm being done to women self-administering Mifepristone and Misoprostol at home.”

Dr Gardner cites a number of risks to the mother, including the increased risk of coercion to go through with an abortion: “It will be difficult if not impossible to verify by phone or video whether a woman is undergoing any kind of duress to have an abortion. There does not seem to have been any consideration given to this in the proposed change in policy. There will be women who need delicate counselling to discover coercion or other forms of abuse.”

Other risks include: infection, haemorrhage, psychological trauma, risk of future preterm birth, and breast cancer.

Misleading Parliament

The application also includes a statement from the Rt Hon. Ann Widdecombe, setting out the history of the legislation which enables the Health Secretary to designate “a class of places” as suitable for abortions.

During a debate on the Abortion Act in 1990, Miss Widdecombe, then a Conservative MP for Maidstone, alleged that the new legislation put forward by the government inadvertently paved the way for DIY abortions to be allowed in a pregnant woman’s home.

The author of the amendment, Robert Key MP, strongly denied that, and accused Miss Widdecombe of speaking from “the whip issued by the pro-life group” and misleading Parliament.

The then Health Secretary, the Rt Hon. Kenneth Clarke, mirroring the concerns of Matt Hancock and Lord Bethell last month, then assured MPs that the legislation was not intended to legalise home abortions; the abortion drugs could be “administered only in closely regulated circumstances under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner”.

GP surgeries might be authorised to administer such drugs in the future, but not self-administration at home.

The unprecedented decision taken by the government therefore on 30 March demonstrates how the coronavirus crisis has been used to make radical changes to abortion regulations, which would not be possible if parliament were functioning properly.

Christian Concern will argue in the application to the government’s legal team that: “The substantive liberalisation of the abortion law, and the circumvention of the democratic process, are both out of all proportion to any potential benefit to the anti-Coronavirus measures; to the extent that no reasonable decision-maker could have made that decision, and/or could have done so in this manner.”

The impact of this dangerous move is already in motion after the British Pregnancy Advisory Service announced a DIY telemedicine service to pregnant women in Northern Ireland last week.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, comments:

“Something this serious should never occur without the checks and balances of our parliamentary processes.

“The government is acting on a whim of its own rather than the will of parliament and the people.

“The government appears to be caving to the long-standing pressure from abortion industry promoters for whom this has long been a goal.

 “If this goes unchallenged and is widely practised there will be no going back and that is tragic for women and their children.

“I have been able to go to my local GP surgery in lockdown period with a vulnerable, elderly relative who needs medical care. The idea that a pregnant woman is unable to attend a surgery or clinic to talk through an unplanned pregnancy that will change her life forever is not compassionate at all. It is the mark of a society that has lost its moral compass on one of the most important, life-changing decisions a woman can ever make; not to mention the impact on her unborn child.

 “We will ask the government to urgently repeal the legislation which puts thousands of vulnerable women and unborn children at serious risk.”


Notes to Editors

Christian Concern’s application for Judicial Review:

Dr Gregory Gardner’s statement:

Rt.Hon Ann Widdecombe’s statement:

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