A new opinion poll of 1,000 UK GPs has revealed deep unease within the profession over the government’s medical at-home abortion protocol.
The Savanta ComRes poll, carried out on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) and Christian Concern, has shown that 86% of GPs are concerned about the risk of women being coerced into having an abortion and the potential for having a medical abortion past the legal limit of ten weeks into gestation.
More than eight in ten GPs (87%) have also responded that they are concerned about women being at risk of unwanted abortions resulting from domestic abuse where a doctor not seeing the pregnant woman in-person.
A further 74% of GPs polled were also concerned about women finding it distressing to potentially have to dispose of the terminated pregnancy themselves, either into a toilet or sanitary pads.
No proper oversight
Last March, after a controversial double U-turn, the Government brought in measures that allowed abortion providers to send pills through the post to women to self-manage their own abortion at home with no medical supervision. The scheme was launched with the proviso that it was a temporary emergency measure needed for the pandemic’s duration to protect women from coronavirus by taking away the need to attend a clinic.
The service, however, has resulted in medical practitioners no longer having proper oversight and management over the abortion process. The policy has led to serious issues with illegal abortions and already highly vulnerable women experiencing life-changing complications. Despite continued national lockdowns, abortion clinics are now open to pregnant women, raising the question of why the policy is still needed.
For the past three months, the government has been consulting the public on making the temporary service permanent.
The poll of GPs has found that:
- When a woman has an abortion, her physical safety is most commonly felt to be the most important consideration (50%) by GPs. This is ahead of mental wellbeing (33%), privacy (6%) and comfort (2%).
- The majority of GPs (57%) say they are concerned about women having a medical abortion at home after a phone or video consultation with a doctor. Just over a third (37%) say they are not concerned.
- Three-quarters of GPs (74%) say they are concerned about women finding it distressing potentially having to dispose of the terminated pregnancy either into the toilet or sanitary pads. 21% say they are not concerned.
- More than eight in ten GPs (86%) say they are concerned about women having a medical abortion past the legal limit of ten weeks into gestation. 9% say they are not concerned.
- Eight in ten GPs (82%) say they are concerned about the possibility of abortion pills being falsely obtained for another person with a telemedicine abortion appointment where the doctor has not seen the woman in person. 14% say they are not concerned.
- More than eight in ten GPs (86%) say they are concerned about women being at risk of being coerced into an abortion by a partner or family member with a telemedicine abortion appointment where the doctor has not seen the woman in person. 11% say they are not concerned.
- More than eight in ten GPs (87%) say they are concerned about women being at risk of unwanted abortion arising from domestic abuse by partners controlling or monitoring their actions with a telemedicine abortion appointment where the doctor has not seen the woman in person. 9% say they are not concerned.
- After being presented with information about an investigation that found that abortion providers had sent abortion drugs to women who had given false personal information (for example, name, address or claimed gestation), the vast majority of GPs agreed with each of the following:
- It is concerning that callers giving false information can easily obtain abortion drugs (90%).
- Staff at abortion providers need to ensure that they are collecting correct medical and personal information to certify a woman for a home abortion (94%).
- It is important that checks are put in place to ensure women being certified for abortion meet the legal criteria (94%).
Further Savanta ComeRes polls of adults in England and Scotland has also shown that the majority of the public have concerns about the government’s policy.
‘Women abandoned to DIY abortion’
Commenting on the poll findings, Dr Gregory Gardner, a longstanding GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, said: “Having recently encountered a case of patient identity fraud, this poll reflects significant concern among GPs of the vulnerability of women seeking abortion advice by telemedicine. The potential for coercion and medical error is real, and properly acknowledged in the poll by a large majority of GPs.”
John Deighan, Deputy CEO of SPUC, said: “These results are a searing indictment of a rushed, badly-thought through policy. The Department of Health is clearly and completely out of touch with GP’s opinion on this issue. This reckless policy must end.
“The risks of coercion are obvious, as are the mental health implications for women of having to dispose of a terminated pregnancy themselves. Despite the rise in domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdown the government has chosen to abandon woman to DIY abortion, with no safeguarding to protect them from coercion or abuse. The sad reality is that many more woman will, likely, now be coerced into abortion from an abusive partner.”
Andrea Williams, the chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “These figures show clearly that medical professionals working on the frontlines are deeply concerned about pregnant women’s safety.
“The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and abortion providers have cynically jumped on the public health crisis to push through their radical pro-choice ideology at the expense of women. The DIY abortion policy has conclusively been shown to carry the exact risks Lord Bethell cited to Parliament when promising not to enact the policy just under a year ago. We have also shown that holes in the reporting data have led to the number of complications being under-reported.
“MPs and the government need to listen to GPs and stop believing everything that idealists in the abortion industry are telling them.”
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