Government says ‘temporary’ DIY abortion measure will continue

7 July 2020

Last night, an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill was withdrawn that would have permanently allowed abortions to take place at any location in cases of suspected domestic abuse.

The amendment received significant criticism from MPs, many of whom pointed out that home abortions enabled abusers.

Sir Edward Leigh quoted evidence from our legal challenge of the government’s home abortion policy. Dr Gregory Gardner’s witness statement, which showed that DIY abortions put women’s physical and mental health at risk was cited:

“As Dr Gregory Gardner, a GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, highlighted in his witness statement:

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.”

But although the amendment was withdrawn due to a lack of support, the victory came at a cost, as the government promised a consultation on abortion and said that the current policy allowing home abortions would continue until the consultation was complete. Victoria Atkins MP stated:

“The Government consider that the right way forward is to undertake a public consultation on whether to make permanent the current covid-19 measure allowing for home use of early medical abortion pills up to 10 weeks’ gestation for all eligible women. … I can confirm that we will keep the current covid-19 measures in place until the public consultation concludes and a decision has been made.”

Pressing forward with legal challenge

The extension of the so-called ‘temporary’ measures further underlines the importance of our legal challenge of the government’s ’emergency’ position. The measures were put in place citing the emergency of access to abortions during the coronavirus lockdown, but with most clinics now open and lockdown restrictions eased, there is no reason for the policy to continue.

Christian Concern’s legal challenge of the government’s decision to allow DIY abortions is to be heard by the Court of Appeal on 28 or 29 July.

At the judicial hearing, Christian Concern’s lawyers will argue that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had no power under the 1967 Abortion Act to authorise home abortion. Only Parliament could change the law, which states 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.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern commented: “We welcome the decision made last night by MPs to keep abortion law as it stands. However, the government’s promise to keep home abortions until a consultation has taken place disregards the safety of women and contradicts the ’emergency’ reasons the measures were first put in place.”

DIY abortions wide open to abuse

Christian Concern’s legal challenge has highlighted many of the dangers of the government’s DIY abortion policy.

Evidence at the High Court hearing in May highlighted how major abortion provider BPAS, which leads the campaign to fully liberalise abortion, had misled the Department for Health on the risks to women of home abortions.

Kevin Duffy, a former Marie Stopes International director showed that scans to assess gestational age are a routine and important part of the abortion pathway, used to ensure that the medically-appropriate abortion procedures are given. The risks of medical abortions at home increase significantly after 10 weeks, the current limit.

Lack of proper process revealed

Since the case was launched, BPAS has been shown to be flouting even the new regulations. A 28-week abortion (four weeks beyond the limit in the Abortion Act) was investigated and reported to police in May. A further eight cases where pills had been taken beyond the limit for home abortions were known at the time.

Christian Concern also commissioned a ‘mystery client survey’ to see if BPAS and Marie Stopes UK had adequate measures to stop their home abortion services being abused.

In every case, abortion pills were sent out despite fake details being provided. Case studies show how this allows particularly dangerous abortions to take place after 10 weeks’ gestation and how it is open to coercive abuse.

Andrea Williams commented: “We are for the women, trying to point out legitimate concerns about telemedicine services related to legal compliance, client safety, and quality of care. These women need better client-centred counselling and a face-to-face consultation in which they can be assessed by a service provider before giving their consent to this procedure. A rushed telephone call, by voice only, is not the quality of care which these women deserve.

“The system is wide open to abuse from abusers, pimps, and human traffickers.

“Lockdown is over and now that restrictions are easing, we can safely reintroduce the clinic visit and an ultrasound assessment as part of the abortion care pathway.

“We are grateful that MPs rejected attempts to write these policies into law. But the government should never have promised to keep entirely at-home abortions going until a consultation has taken place.  

“Abortion pills through the post is a system that needs to be stopped immediately and a thorough investigation needs to occur around the legality and practices of the two major abortion providers in the UK.”

Find out more about DIY abortions
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