Temporary legislation allowing for early medical abortions (EMAs) to take place at home should be made permanent, reproductive healthcare groups have said.
In March, due to the coronavirus pandemic, temporary legislation was introduced that allowed patients within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy to take pills for early medical abortion in their own homes. This follows a phone call or e-consultation with a clinician, and means the patient does not need to physically attend a hospital or clinic.
A consultation, due to close on 26 February, is now under way by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to determine whether the temporary legislation should be made permanent.
Statistics by the DHSC have shown that between January and June 2020 86% of abortions were performed under 10 weeks. Between April and June 2020, 43% of medical abortions were administered at home.
Charities and advocacy groups, including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Abortion Rights UK, and MSI Reproductive Choices UK, have urged that, after the consultation, this legislation should be made permanent, arguing that it is safe and effective.
Katherine O’Brien of the BPAS said that the development of telemedical abortion care has been a silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic.
“While other healthcare services have been suspended, access to abortion has been maintained and waiting times for abortion care have fallen significantly. Telemedicine enables women to better combine their healthcare needs with other responsibilities in their lives, such as work and childcare commitments, and it means that women can end their pregnancies in the privacy and comfort of their own homes.
“For women who are in challenging circumstances which may restrict their ability to attend a clinic, such as women who are in an abusive or controlling relationship, this service has proved a lifeline. By allowing women to receive medication by post, it also protects women from having to face anti-abortion clinic protesters, who will no doubt be hoping that telemedicine is revoked so that they can harass and intimidate as many women as possible. This regulatory change should be retained so that BPAS and other providers can continue to provide this high standard of care in future.”
Kerry Abel, the chair of Abortion Rights UK, said the case for at-home early medical abortions has been made by shorter waiting times and high patient satisfaction, but that it also has broken down other barriers to accessing abortion services in the UK.
“Barriers such as travel – the cost and the inconvenience for all, but particularly disabled women and those in rural communities not served by regular public transport. We know women have passed their abortions on the bus home – the previous restrictions weren’t always humane.
“More than 50% of women who have an abortion have children already. Telemedicine avoids paying out for childcare and even missing potential work if someone has to give up a shift and they have a zero-hours contract.
“The benefit to women in domestic abuse scenarios who can’t make out-of-the-ordinary appointments is clear.”
A DHSC spokesperson said: “The current temporary measures allow eligible women to use both pills for early medical abortion – which goes up to 10 weeks of gestation – at home, and at the end of last year we launched a three-month consultation on whether to make this permanent.
“The consultation closes on 26 February and we welcome feedback from anyone with an interest or view on this subject, particularly from people who have been directly affected by the current temporary measure.”