Women requiring an abortion during the UK lockdown can now access a “pills by post” system, meaning the medication required will be sent to their home.
The service is being offered by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) to women who are up to 10 weeks pregnant. Marie Stopes is also offering this option to eligible women after a consultation. The news comes following a U-turn from the Department of Health concerning their abortion policy amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
Medical professionals and women’s rights groups have praised the move by Bpas, especially after it expanded its service to also send women in Northern Ireland pills by post.
If you’re considering using the postal system or are looking at other options, here’s what you need to know.
Where can you access abortion services during lockdown?
You don’t need a GP referral to access an abortion and can self-refer to an abortion clinic. The three largest NHS abortion providers nationwide are the National Unplanned Pregnancy Advisory Service (NUPAS), British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), and Marie Stopes.
Although some clinics have been forced to close during the pandemic, all three providers still have clinics open for those who need to visit in person. This will be relevant if you require a surgical abortion, usually given to women wishing to access treatment between 10 and 24 weeks gestation (how many weeks pregnant you are).
If your local clinic is closed, you will be offered an appointment at the closest location to you.
If you don’t want to attend a clinic and you’re up to 10 weeks gestation, you can access Bpas’ “pills by post” system, or speak to Marie Stopes to see if you’re eligible.
What are abortion pills and how do they work?
Abortion pills are used for medical abortions. This treatment option requires a woman to take two tablets 24 to 48 hours apart: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first tablet ends the pregnancy and the second causes the body to pass the pregnancy, working in a similar way to a miscarriage.
Before the lockdown, women in England, Scotland and Wales had to travel to a clinic to take the first pill, then take the second pill at home. This system is still in place for women based in Northern Ireland. However, in light of the current social distancing effort, women can now take both pills at home.
Most women don’t feel any symptoms after taking the first pill, but the body reacts unpredictably to the second one, and every woman is different, Abigail Smith, a clinical nurse manager from Bpas previously told HuffPost UK.
“The most common side effects of those tablets are sickness and diarrhoea. Some people get a headache, some people get a rash and some people get light-headed,” she said.
Passing the pregnancy is rarely sudden, Smith explained. “It doesn’t usually start with a big bang. It usually starts as a bit of spotting, a bit of cramping which builds up, which is why I always liken it to climbing a hill,” she said. “At the top of the hill, which is usually about four to six hours after inserting the tablet, that’s when you can expect to pass the pregnancy.”
Recovery from medical abortion is usually very quick and you’re likely to feel able to go back to day-to-day life the next day.
How can you access the new “pills by post”?
If you’re considering the pills by post option, you can do so through Bpas or Marie Stopes.
For Bpas, you’re required to call the Bpas consultation line on 03457 30 40 30 to schedule a consultation. You can also request a call back and you’ll be called by a withheld number. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing, you can call the Bpas textphone on 0345 365 1450. Your phone consultation will last around 40 minutes.
“During this, you need to be on your own, somewhere safe, where you can speak openly. Ideally you should also have access to the internet, to support a discussion about treatment,” Bpas Medical Director Patricia Lohr explained in a Twitter thread.
The consultation will follow the same structure as a usual consultation at the clinic: a clinician will go through your medical history, talk you through your consent and what treatment option you were hoping for. They will also discuss future contraception.
“If we have any concerns about your safety or wellbeing, we will arrange for a safeguarding assessment,” said Lohr. “This may take place over a video call, or in a clinic if you’re a young person, or over the phone.”
After the consultation, Bpas will post the medication you need, with clear instructions and information on how to care for yourself. This will be sent in plain packaging and will not require a signature
“We will also include a pregnancy test to check the abortion has been successful, and a six-month supply of the progestegen-only contraceptive pill if needed,” Lohr added.
As with any abortion, you’ll have access to Bpas’ 24/7 aftercare line, on 0300 333 68 28. Bpas clinics also offer up to three free counselling sessions. After this, the counsellor can direct women how to access further counselling if it’s needed.
In a similar service, Marie Stopes says following “initial screening, a phone consultation and all necessary safeguarding checks, eligible women will be able to take both sets of abortion pills at home without attending a clinic”. Call its 24/7 advice line on 0345 300 8090.
Will the services continue after lockdown ends?
“We would certainly like to see that happen,” a spokesperson for Bpas told HuffPost UK. “Telemedicine for early medical abortion care is very safe, and recommended by medical bodies.”
However, the government’s approval is currently tied to the coronavirus pandemic, and as such, has a time limit of two years – “but we would very much like to see it extended in the future.”