Government to face urgent Judicial Review on ‘DIY’ abortion U-turn15 May 2020 Issued by: Christian Concern
On Tuesday 19 May, in a rolled up hearing, Christian Concern will pursue an urgent Judicial Review challenging the government’s decision to allow women to have medical abortions at home with only a phone or video consultation.
Despite the government assuring Parliament that the policy would not change and warning that an in-person consultation was “an essential safeguard” for women, the policy was brought in shortly after the lockdown began. Lawyers will argue that the decision making process was unlawful, undemocratic and unsafe for thousands of pregnant women at an already highly vulnerable time.
The role of the abortion industry, senior civil servants and their influence on the ministers in the Department for Health and Social Care will come under scrutiny. Access to DIY abortions without any in-person medical supervision is arguably the most significant change to abortion law since it was passed in 1967.
Until this point, abortions could only take place in hospitals or abortion clinics approved by the Secretary of State. Under the new ‘temporary’ policy, clinicians are now able to prescribe mifepristone and misoprostol over the phone or video platforms such as Facetime or Skype and drugs are sent directly to the woman’s home.
The new regulations permitting DIY abortion were initially published just before national lockdown on Monday 23 March, but were pulled hours later with the government claiming there had been an ‘administrative error.’
The following day Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated that there would be no change to abortion law in parliament.
Then, as the Coronavirus Bill was brought to the House of Lords on Wednesday 25 March Health Minister, Lord Bethell, 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.”
Over the weekend abortion providers and lobbyists challenged the government over its decision to withdraw the original regulations culminating in an open letter to the Sunday Times. On Monday 30 March, the government U-turned and officially approved the home of a pregnant woman as a place where early medical abortion could take place.
Serious risk of harm and coercion
Christian Concern’s case is backed by expert witnesses, former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe and Dr Gregory Gardner.
Dr Gardner highlights the risk of serious injury and harm being done to women self-administering abortion drugs, and the increased risk of pregnant women being coerced into having an abortion.
When the urgent application for Judicial Review was launched, Miss Widdecombe said: “Parliament was told one thing. Government is doing another and that says it all.”
A fight for democratic freedom
Ahead of the Judicial Review, Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Concern, said: “UK Parliament was explicitly told on March 24 by the government that there were no plans to change the rules on access to abortion in response to Covid-19 as the risks were too high to the women involved. Only a week later the government seems to have capitulated to the pressure of the abortion lobby by doing a U-turn.
“The government changed the law on a matter of life and death without reference to parliament. The government did this after expressly stating on the floor of the House of Commons and House of Lords that this would not happen.
“The UK government is going to extraordinary lengths to protect lives due to the threat of Covid-19. It appears to fail to see the irony in opening up access to abortion and counting the lives that will be lost as a result of such action.
“If this practice goes unchallenged there will be no going back and that is tragic for women and their children.
“The coronavirus crisis is being exploited, not just in the UK, but globally, to make changes to abortion law which would not be possible under properly functioning democracies.
“This is nothing less than a fight to preserve our hard-won democratic freedoms which do not allow the government to make changes to the law on a whim with no accountability.”
Notes to editors
10:30 – 16.30 TUE 19 May
Link to LIVE feed to be made available on HM Courts and Tribunals website
Christian Concern’s application for Judicial Review https://christianconcern.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/CC-Resource-Misc-Judicial-Review-Facts-And-Grounds-200420.pdf