MPs have voted to permanently remove the requirement to see a medical professional in person before procuring an medical abortion up to nine weeks and six days, overturning the Government’s decision to end ‘DIY’ abortion.
On Wednesday 30 March, MPs approved a House of Lords amendment to the Health and Care Bill by a margin of 27 votes (215:188) that will make ‘DIY’ at-home abortion permanently available in England.
This means that for a medical abortion, before 10 weeks, it is possible to procure and administer the two abortion pills used in a medical abortion without ever seeing a medical professional in person.
To procure an abortion prior to March 2020, it was necessary to have a medical consultation in person. This was both to ascertain the gestation of the baby, thereby preventing complications, and to act as an important safeguard in helping to prevent coercion and abuse.
However, as part of the Government’s pandemic response, abortions were permitted, for the first time, to take place entirely outside a clinical setting. ‘DIY’ abortions were explicitly introduced on a temporary basis and last month the Government confirmed that they would come to an end in August this year.
However, Conservative Peer, Baroness Sugg, introduced an amendment to the Government’s Health and Care Bill that sought to overrule the Government’s decision and make the ‘DIY’ abortion scheme permanent. After being voted through in the House of Lords, the amendment was passed by the Commons after Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary “encouraged” Labour MPs to support the amendment.
A number of MPs highlighted concerns that removing an in-person consultation could facilitate coercion and abuse. Commenting on this, Dr Caroline Johnson MP said: “We know that sometimes women and girls can be coerced into having abortions that they do not want, perhaps because the baby is of a gender or sex that the father does not want, perhaps because they are being abused, or perhaps they are being trafficked or sexually assaulted. It is very difficult for a woman to tell someone about that over the telephone, whereas if a woman is seen in clinic, she has that one-to-one opportunity”.
During the debate, MP for Upper Bann, Carla Lockhart, referenced the tragic story of a 16-year-old girl who received abortion pills far beyond the legal gestational limit of 10 weeks. She said: “She disclosed that during her phone consultation the abortion provider calculated she was less than eight weeks pregnant, so she went to a British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinic to collect abortion pills. She was not scanned or examined. As the BBC reports, on taking the second pill she began to experience, in her words, “really bad” pain. She shared: “My relative called another ambulance, because when I was pushing my boyfriend could see feet”.”
“Members, this baby was born with a heartbeat. They were both taken to hospital, where Savannah was found to have been between 20 and 21 weeks pregnant. Unsurprisingly, she said she had been left traumatised and that if she had been scanned to determine her gestation, she “would have had him”.”
During the debate, Fiona Bruce MP alerted MPs to the startling data showing the dangers of DIY abortions: “Freedom of information data analysis also shows that one in 17 women taking abortion pills requires hospital treatment. That means that more than 14,000 women have been treated in hospital following the approval of pills-by-post abortion. A similar study of FOI data in February 2021 showed that every month, 495 women attended hospital with complications arising from abortion pills, and that 365 of them required hospital treatment”.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “The group of MPs who have voted for this amendment have voted to remove vital safeguards including an in-person appointment with a medical professional. This will put thousands more women at risk from ‘DIY’ home abortion services”.
“At-home abortion schemes have been linked to a series of scandals where women have been put at risk”.
“By removing a routine in-person consultation that allows medical practitioners to certify gestation and recognise potential coercion or abuse, ‘at-home’ abortion has presented serious risks to women and girls in abusive situations. It has allowed severe complications to occur, as well as abortions beyond the legal limit, as abortion providers currently cannot ensure the pills are taken by the intended individual within the appropriate time frame”.
“Polling in England shows the overwhelming majority of women and GPs surveyed were concerned by the possibility of pills being falsely obtained for another person, and by women having medical abortions at home beyond the legal limit. Previous polling has revealed that 92% of women in Britain agreed that a woman requesting an abortion should always be seen in person by a qualified doctor”.