A nationwide undercover investigation has revealed abortion providers breaking the law and putting pregnant women at serious risk through their ‘DIY’ abortion telemedicine services.
In light of the government’s extraordinary double U-turn which allowed the service to take place during UK lockdown, Christian Concern commissioned a public health consultant, Kevin Duffy, to carry out a research exercise.
Eight volunteers took part in an industry standard ‘mystery client’ exercise to see if BPAS and Marie Stopes UK were abiding by the law and properly caring for women.
In every case, pills were sent to the volunteers, despite using false names, dates of birth and gestational dates. In one case, the volunteer gave a date that could only have led to an abortion beyond the 10-week safety limit given in the regulations.
The investigation shows that these home abortion schemes are wide open to abuse and leading to dangerous and illegal ‘DIY’ abortions.
Email correspondence and witness statements in the case reveal that abortion provider BPAS had substantively misled the Department for Health about the risk to mothers involved in entirely at-home abortions.
These telemedicine abortions are currently being provided by Marie Stopes UK and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
Pressure in Parliament for permanent home abortions
The news comes as an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill is debated this evening, which seeks to make the temporary ‘DIY’ abortion scheme permanent.
If accepted, the amendment would allow women in situations of domestic abuse to consult with a medical practitioner via telemedicine to obtain abortion pills without having to visit a clinic or see a doctor in person.
The initial decision to allow telemedicine abortion has been challenged by Christian Concern, which last month was granted permission by the Court of Appeal for a judicial review into the government decision. The Court of Appeal will now hold a public hearing to decide whether Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s decision was unlawful.
Lord Justice Lewison ruled it is “arguable” that 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.
Mystery client investigation
As part of the mystery client investigation, eight volunteers went through the process of acquiring mifepristone and misoprostol, the abortion pills needed to perform an abortion at home.
The volunteers provided fake names but said they were living at real addresses known to them.
They were all able to get the abortion ‘treatment packs’ funded on the NHS by providing fake GP registration after Marie Stopes UK and BPAS staff accepted the surgery details and continued with the process.
Each woman was also able to have the pills sent to her home by providing fake gestation for her ‘pregnancy’.
Legally, to ensure the safety of the service, a pregnant woman should only be able to take the pills that enable an abortion up to nine weeks and six days’ gestation.
However, one volunteer caller – ‘Anna’ – gave a gestation date on the cusp of the 9 week and 6 day limit, which would have put her over the limit at the start of the process. On the second call, she changed the date of her last menstrual period (LMP) to remain within the 9.6 limit, which was accepted with no questions asked.
Evidence already suggests that home abortions are taking place illegally and past the 10 week deadline during the coronavirus lockdown. In May, police announced they were investigating the still birth of a child born at 28 weeks after the mother took abortion pills she had been sent by BPAS through its ‘pills by post’ scheme – four weeks after the legal limit for medical terminations and 18 weeks after the 9.6 restriction on at-home abortions. At the time, BPAS announced that it was investigating at least 9 cases where the abortifacients had been prescribed beyond the 10-week limit.
Each caller was rushed through the process. On one call, staff can be heard talking over the woman to quickly conclude the conversation by sending out the abortion pills.
Increased risk of coercion
The pro-abortion lobby has repeatedly defended the home abortion programme, arguing that women in abusive relationships may need quick access to abortion as they can’t make it to a clinic.
However, when the service was first suggested, the government rejected home abortions, citing its concerns that the policy increased the risk of women being coerced into having an abortion. The service removed the standard safeguards of a face-to-face consultation at an abortion clinic.
On behalf of the government, Lord Bethell had previously defended its stance against introducing at-home abortions:
“However, 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.
“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.”
This investigation has revealed that the service can be manipulated by a third party to obtain abortion pills for an underage sexual abuse victim without any scrutiny. Furthermore, the pills can also be obtained by a third party to obtain abortion pills which could then be surreptitiously put in a woman’s food or drink.
Recent stories have already revealed that women who are raped or abused are likely to be forced into getting an abortion against their will. For example, even before DIY abortion was made legal, the case of ‘Sarah’ highlighted the likelihood of victims of sex grooming to be coerced into getting abortions: ‘Sarah’ was repeatedly raped and forced into eight abortions against her will.
Similarly, it has recently come to light that an alleged victim of Jeffrey Epstein was repeatedly raped, and forced to have an abortion when she became pregnant aged 16.
Christian Concern’s Communications Manager, Paul Huxley, asks:
“We are talking about a major safety issue: women being pressured into abortions by abusive partners. What studies or evidence showed that this ‘essential safeguard’ was unnecessary? Did [the government] consider how many coerced abortions were acceptable to the Department of Health when succumbing to the abortion lobby’s wishes?”
The investigation also exposes that a tourist from another country, who doe not have recourse to NHS funding for healthcare, could get an abortion using the ‘DIY’ abortion service and have it fully paid for by the taxpayer on the NHS.
‘Service must be urgently withdrawn’
Kevin Duffy, a former Global Director of Clinics Development at Marie Stopes International, who led the investigation, said: “The investigation clearly demonstrates that abortion at home by pills-by-post, is not safe, and on many occasions it oversteps, legal boundaries without any proper scrutiny.
“Each of the scenarios revealed by this investigation would not have happened under the pre-lockdown process. Previously as part of the routine care, the woman would first be examined and assessed in a clinic by a professional service provider before being consented for an abortion, which could have resulted in her being able to safely self-administer both tablets at home.
“Women can self-refer for abortion services and do not need to be referred by their GP. Telemedicine means it is much harder to correctly identify the woman and what her gestational stage is. Service providers using the telemedicine process are solely reliant upon the accurate and honest self-assessment by the woman of the gestational age of her pregnancy, her self-reporting of the first day of her last period has replaced the routine examination by a service provider in a clinic.
“It is deeply concerning that the abortion industry has been allowed to take this service this far during an already highly vulnerable time for pregnant women. The process of wholly relying on telemedicine must be withdrawn urgently.”
Chilling reality of ‘DIY’ abortion
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “This undercover operation has exposed the dangers to vulnerable women as a result of the change in the law. This unsafe, and frequently illegal service, is provided by an abortion industry which wields huge influence at the heart of UK government.
“Pre-action disclosure in our court case reveals the hot line abortion executives have to senior civil servants at the heart of the health and social care department. This has to be investigated and overhauled.
“If Diana Johnson’s amendments go forward today there will be a parliamentary debate on whether to introduce to the UK some of the most extreme abortion laws in the world .
“It would be an abuse of the Domestic Abuse Bill to hijack it in order to decriminalise abortion at any time for any reason up to 28 weeks.
“How can a civilised parliament even contemplate such a move when we know that babies born at less than 28 weeks have a strong chance of survival.
“The revelations of how these DIY abortion services are run and the lack of due process should cause MPs to think again and to reject these dangerous amendments.
“If the amendments go through they will have catastrophic consequences for vulnerable pregnant women and for our unborn children. Abortion figures are already at record levels and we should be working toward public policies which bring down abortion numbers not increase them.
“The abortion providers are shamelessly pushing these amendments in Parliament while ignoring the safety of women who ask for their services.
“The issue of abortion is coming to a head. This public health, mystery client exercise, conducted and regulated to the highest professional standards, has exposed the chilling disregard for proper process at the heart of the abortion industry.”
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