Government to face Judicial Review on ‘DIY’ home abortions at Court of Appeal23 July 2020 Issued by: Christian Concern
10:30 – 16.30 WED 29 July
Court of Appeal remote hearing via Skype for Business
Journalists or members of the public wishing to join the hearing must contact clerks to the court by 1pm on Friday 24 July to arrange access.
Email cara.tully@Justice.gov.uk ; lisa.sanchez@Justice.gov.uk ; Sian.Jenkins@justice.gov.uk .
Any issues with access, please contact email@example.com
On Wednesday 29 July via a Court of Appeal remote hearing, the government will face a judicial review on its decision to allow women to have medical abortions at home during UK lockdown with only a phone or video consultation.
Christian Concern’s legal team will present detailed evidence to show that Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock’s permission for DIY abortions has led to illegal circulation of abortion pills on a massive scale in the past few months, and has harmed patients. The evidence, which includes full details of an undercover investigation as well as leaked internal documentation from the NHS, will be made public in open court for the first time.
Case allowed to proceed
The Court of Appeal allowed the case to proceed to judicial review after reversing the decision of the High Court in May to reject Christian Concern’s legal challenge against the legalisation of DIY abortions.
Lord Justice Lewison ruled it is “arguable” that the Health Secretary Matt Hancock exceeded his powers under the 1967 Abortion Act when he designated “a pregnant woman’s home” as a permissible place for abortion.
Lord Justice Lewison has concluded that Christian Concern’s argument “has a real prospect of success”, and the Court of Appeal will now hold a public hearing to decide whether Mr Hancock’s decision should be quashed.
DIY abortions take place by self-administration of a Mifepristone pill, which kills the foetus inside the mother’s womb. On 30 March 2020, Mr Hancock formally approved “the home of a pregnant woman” as a place where Mifepristone can be administered, after being prescribed during a telephone consultation and sent by post. The measure was the most significant change in UK abortion law since the adoption of the Abortion Act in 1967.
‘Hancock exceeded powers’
Firstly, Christian Concern’s lawyers will argue that Mr Hancock had no power under the 1967 Abortion Act to authorise home abortions. Only Parliament could change the law, which is that abortions may only take place in NHS hospitals and approved clinics.
Second, permitting DIY abortions at home frustrates the purpose of the Abortion Act, which is to prevent ‘backstreet abortions’ and ensure that abortions take place in safe and hygienic conditions.
The challenge has the backing of a former government minister, the Rt Hon. Ann Widdecombe, who has provided a statement in support of it.
Just a few days before authorising DIY abortions, the government renewed its assurances to Parliament that it would not do so and opposed an amendment to the 2020 Coronavirus Act which would have permitted self-administration of the pill at home.
Vulnerable women could be pressured
Health Minister Lord Bethell told the House of Lords on 25 March 2020: “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. Do we really want to support an amendment that could remove the only opportunity many women have, often at a most vulnerable stage, to speak confidentially and one-to-one with a doctor about their concerns on abortion and about what the alternatives might be? 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.”
These concerns are echoed in the expert report of Dr Gregory Gardner, commissioned by the Christian Concern’s lawyers for this case. Dr Gardner has concluded that the decision to allow home abortions puts women at serious risk of harm to physical and mental heath and increased the risk of coercion to have an abortion.
Former director of Marie Stopes International, Kevin Duffy, has also submitted an expert report in support of Christian Concern’s claim. Mr Duffy’s report explains that DIY abortions are not nearly as safe as the DHSC civil servants told Mr Hancock. He described the advice given to Mr Hancock by the civil servants as “misleading”.
Following Mr Hancock’s legalisation of home abortions on 30 March, their practical operations have been far from smooth. On 22 May, BPAS announced that it was investigating at least 9 cases where the abortifacients had been prescribed beyond the 10-week limit mandated by the regulation, with at least one of those incidences at 28 weeks.
An investigation has also revealed abortion providers breaking the law and putting pregnant women at serious risk through its telemedicine service.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “The case exposes the power and influence of the abortion industry at the heart of government.
“Since the home abortion ‘pills through the post’ service was introduced we have become aware of women’s lives being put at risk and the pills being used past the legal gestation date.”