Why Virtual Abortion Appointments Are Still Vital For Vulnerable Women

Women should be able to continue to access abortion care at home, BPAS has argued.
Abortion care has been available to women at home during the pandemic.
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Abortion care has been available to women at home during the pandemic.

Women should be able to continue to access abortion care at home, a leading abortion provider has argued.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said that it is concerned that there is a rising number of women “forced to continue pregnancies because appointments cannot be found” as it called for women to continue to be able to access services from home.

During the first lockdown in March 2020, the Department for Health and Social Care changed regulations allowing women to have medical abortions at home.

The “pills by post” service enables women to receive two pills – mifepristone and misoprostol – that induce a medical abortion, without the need to visit a clinic.

To access the medication, women must first have a telephone consultation with a clinician, which covers the same questions usually asked at the clinic regarding their medical history, consent and the treatment itself.

BPAS has said that since the change in the rules, more than 100,000 women have had abortions at home before they are 10 weeks pregnant.

It urged ministers to continue to allow women to access abortion care in this way, saying that abortion services are under “significant pressure”.

Before the pandemic, women in England, Scotland and Wales had to travel to a clinic to take the first pill, then take the second pill.

As early as the end of the first lockdown, Katherine O’Brien, a spokesperson at BPAS, highlighted the pressing need for wider access to abortion care.

“We know that even outside the pandemic, women struggle to access care in clinics due to childcare responsibilities and transport issues, for example,” O’Brien told HuffPost UK in May 2020.

“Women in coercive or abusive relationships are at particular risk of being unable to attend clinic appointments without their abuser discovering their pregnancy.”

Some women have no choice but to turn to illegal methods, such as buying abortion medication online, risking up to life imprisonment under the current law, added O’Brien, who said the “pills by post” service was still needed for “this group of extremely vulnerable women”.

Others, who argue that continuing the policy could mean some women are being forced into having an abortion against their will, have called for the measures to be scrapped.

BPAS chief executive Clare Murphy said: “Abortion is a safe and straightforward procedure, but the earlier it can be offered the better for women’s health and wellbeing.

“The current permission for telemedical abortion has enabled access to care at the earliest gestations, and has been particularly beneficial for women in some of the most complex circumstances.”

“We are already struggling to meet women’s needs as requests for help have grown over the last six months.

The need for second trimester surgical services has also increased, Murphy said, with these appointments increasingly hard to find.

“It is heartbreaking to turn away women in some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable,” she said, calling for action from Sajid Javid.

“We urge the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to ensure access to telemedical abortion remains an option for women, so we can continue to meet as many women’s needs as early as possible. Women’s health will suffer without it.”