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Government announces end to at-home abortions in England

Today, the UK Minister for Vaccines and Public Health, Maggie Throup, announced that at-home abortions in England will end on 29 August. Temporary approval was put in place at the beginning of the pandemic to allow women to allow take both pills for early medical abortion up to 10 weeks gestation at home. But this is now set to be reversed, a move that runs counter to opinion in the medical community. Humanists UK which campaigned in favour of permanent provision, has expressed dismay at the move, since at-home abortion is safe and provides a better service for women in vulnerable circumstances. It therefore should become permanent.

In March 2020, the Government changed abortion regulations to allow women and girls in England to administer the medication needed to perform an early medical abortion within their own home without an in-person appointment. This measure was taken to ensure that women could continue to receive care during the pandemic when abortion clinics were closed, and people were advised not to travel for risk of infection. Similar measures were also introduced in Scotland and Wales.

This ‘telemedicine’ has been successful in ensuring continuity of care and reducing the risk of transmission of the virus. Significantly, it has also made the procedure safer and more accessible for women and girls. They have been able to access services earlier in their pregnancies and/or in difficult circumstances that would have prevented them from attending a clinic. A study of more than 50,000 abortions before and after the change in England and Wales, published by the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in February 2021, concluded that telemedical abortion provision is ‘effective, safe, acceptable, and improves access to care’. On the basis of these evidence-based and peer-reviewed findings all major medical bodies in relevant fields supported telemedicine becoming permanent. This includes the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Midwives.

Humanists UK’s Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented:

‘Today’s decision is obviously a disappointment. Ending at-home abortions is a missed opportunity to take advantage of one of the few good things to have come out of the pandemic, which is a safer and more accessible abortion system. This has been shown to be the case through rigorous empirical medical evidence.

‘It is hard to understand the basis on which the Government has made this decision, which not only runs counter to the most recent and relevant medical evidence but the advice of the most important medical bodies involved in abortion care. We will campaign to see this decision overturned.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the Government’s announcement. 

Read our consultation response on making telemedicine permanent.  

Read the study in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Read more about our work on sexual and reproductive rights.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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