UK Government face legal challenge over ‘DIY’ home abortions at Court of Appeal

The UK Government’s decision to introduce ‘DIY’ home abortions amid the coronavirus pandemic will be challenged at the Court of Appeal today.

Despite assurances from the Government that there would be “no change” to abortion regulations and that in-person consultations remain “an essential safeguard” for women, the Government brought in a policy allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions shortly after lockdown began.

The very substantial change was made without any public consultation, parliamentary scrutiny or debate.

Prior to the change in regulations, abortions could only take place in hospitals or abortion clinics approved by the Secretary of State.

Under the new ‘temporary’ policy, doctors are able to prescribe mifepristone and misoprostol over the phone or video platforms such as Facetime or Skype, meaning women will be left to pass their unborn child at home without direct medical supervision.

The Government had initially stated its intention to allow ‘DIY’ abortions on 23 March, but backtracked later that day claiming the announcement had been “published in error.”

The government web page that had published the changes instead had the following message for visitors: “The information on this page has been removed because it was published in error. This was published in error. There will be no changes to abortion regulations.”

Just one day later, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock reassured the House of Commons that there would be no change to any abortion laws in response to COVID-19.

Additionally, Health Minister Lord Bethell made it very clear that there were significant safety and safeguarding issues for women and young girls with the proposal. 

As the Coronavirus Bill was brought to the House of Lords on Wednesday 25 March, Lord Bethell rejected strongly, on behalf of the Government, the proposed changes to abortion law, stating:

“….we do not agree that women should be able to take both treatments for medical abortion at home. We believe that it is an essential safeguard that a woman attends a clinic, to ensure that she has an opportunity to be seen alone and to ensure that there are no issues.

“Do we really want to support an amendment that could remove the only opportunity many women have, often at a most vulnerable stage, to speak confidentially and one-to-one with a doctor about their concerns on abortion and about what the alternatives might be? The bottom line is that, if there is an abusive relationship and no legal requirement for a doctor’s involvement, it is far more likely that a vulnerable woman could be pressured into have an abortion by an abusive partner.”

He also made it clear that it would be inappropriate to make this change without parliamentary scrutiny: “It is not right to rush through this type of change in a sensitive area such as abortion without adequate parliamentary scrutiny.”

Despite these clear statements, the Government went against its own warnings and, in an incredible double U-turn, announced on 30 March it would allow ‘DIY’ home abortions.

Through their legal challenge, the Christian Legal Centre wants the dangerous legislation overturned immediately and full disclosure of the Government’s decision-making process and rationale.

Serious risk of harm and coercion

Their case is being backed by former Government Minister Ann Widdecombe and Dr Gregory Gardner.

In an expert witness statement for the High Court challenge, Dr Gregory Gardner, a longstanding GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, highlights the risk of serious injury and harm to women self-administering abortion pills.

“The introduction of home abortions as proposed (notwithstanding the presence of a Covid-19 pandemic) is a policy that is more likely than not to depart from the essential tenets of duty of care through proper clinical assessment, thereby raising the risk of serious injury and harm being done to women self-administering Mifepristone and Misoprostol at home,” Dr Gardner wrote.

In addition to citing risks of infection, haemorrhage, psychological trauma, and risk of future preterm birth, Dr Gardner explains how the Government’s decision could result in more women being coerced into unwanted abortions.

He said: “It will be difficult if not impossible to verify by phone or video whether a woman is undergoing any kind of duress to have an abortion. There does not seem to have been any consideration given to this in the proposed change in policy. There will be women who need delicate counselling to discover coercion or other forms of abuse.”

Former Government minister Ann Widdecombe has also written a statement to the high court in support of the legal challenge.

In her statement, the former Shadow Health Secretary reveals the history of the legislation which has enabled health services in England, Scotland & Wales to roll out ‘DIY’ abortions.

During a parliamentary debate in 1990, Miss Widdecombe raised concerns that an amendment to abortion legislation, allowing the Health Secretary to designate “a class of places” as suitable for abortions would inadvertently pave the way for ‘DIY’ home abortions.

However, the author of the amendment, Robert Key MP, dismissed Miss Widdecombe’s concerns and accused the then Conservative MP of speaking from “the whip issued by the pro-life group” and misleading Parliament.

The Health Secretary at the time, Kenneth Clarke, then assured MPs that the legislation was not intended to legalise home abortions and that abortions would be “administered only in closely regulated circumstances under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner”.

Now, 30 years later, Ann Widdecombe’s previously dismissed concerns have become a reality.

When the legal challenge was launched, Ann Widdecombe said: “Parliament was told one thing. Government is doing another and that says it all.”

Significant problems

Since ‘DIY’ home abortions were introduced on 30 March, a number of significant problems have arisen.

A nationwide undercover investigation found evidence of abortion providers putting women at significant risk by not carrying out basic checks before sending them ‘DIY’ home abortion pills.

The study also discovered ‘DIY’ home abortion pills can easily be obtained and administered to others, potentially in a coercive manner as more shocking abuses from an undercover investigation have come to light.

In May, it was revealed UK police were investigating the death of an unborn baby after its mother took ‘DIY’ home abortion pills while 28 weeks pregnant.

In addition, abortion provider BPAS announced that it was investigating a further eight cases of women taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills beyond the 10-week limit, raising questions over what checks are being conducted to ensure the law isn’t being broken and dangerous later-term abortions aren’t happening. 

A number of women have also come forward to share the serious problems they’ve experienced after taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills.

One woman said she went through “hell” and thought she was going to die after taking the dangerous pills.

Another woman said the pain and physical process was “horrible” and “a lot worse than expected”.

‘Abortion industry at the heart of Government’

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “The case exposes the power and influence of the abortion industry at the heart of government.”

More shocking abuses of ‘DIY’ home abortion pills are exposed

‘DIY’ home abortion pills can easily be obtained and administered to others, potentially in a coercive manner, it has been revealed, as more shocking abuses from an undercover investigation have come to light.

As part of the undercover investigation, commissioned by the Christian Legal Centre, eight volunteers went through the process of acquiring mifepristone and misoprostol – the pills needed to perform a ‘DIY’ home abortion.

In every case, pills were sent to the volunteers, despite using false names, dates of birth and gestational dates. 

Safeguards circumvented as mother acquires abortion pills for underage daughter

Under the use of a false identity and story, Hannah in Hertfordshire (a pseudonym) was able to acquire abortion pills for her underage daughter by pretending she was pregnant herself.

Following a sleepless night, the mother had decided she couldn’t have her fifteen-year-old daughter “go through the system” and in no-way wanted her underage teenager to be questioned by the authorities.

Hannah made the unilateral decision to phone an abortion provider pretending that she was pregnant, get the medical abortion pills sent to their home, and then she would administer these to her daughter.

Hannah wasn’t too sure how this would work out, so she phoned both BPAS and Marie Stopes presenting as seven weeks pregnant and asked for the pills used in a medical termination.

The process was much easier than she thought it would be and after a few telephone calls she received abortion pills in the post from both BPAS and Marie Stopes International.

Although, this is a case study, in real life this would leave a mother like Hannah with two sets of abortion pills – one for her teenage daughter who has circumvented vital safeguards involved in the abortion process and a spare set she could potentially give to another mother with a pregnant daughter.

‘DIY’ home abortion pills consistently prescribed after 10-week limit

Under further false identities and stories, Lisa in Berkshire, Claire in Cambridgeshire, and Laura in Essex (pseudonyms) had each already reached the 10 week gestational time limit when they made their first calls to obtain abortion pills.

Each of them had read about early medical abortion online and knew that their pregnancies exceeded the 9 week 6 day time limit for a ‘DIY’ home abortion.

The women were not just aware they’d be taking abortion pills illegally, but were also aware of the higher incidence of side-effects and failure rates associated with a late-term medical abortion, as detailed on the BPAS website, among others.

The BPAS website states one week of difference, from less than 9 weeks gestation to a 9-10 week gestational age over, doubles the risk of an incomplete abortion; rising from 3% to 7%.

Knowing this, they proceeded regardless and all received their abortion after lying about their gestation age.

Nikki, also also using a false identity, managed to obtain abortion pills from both BPAS and Marie Stopes International. She is now wondering what she might do with the second pack.

Research participant Anna (a pseudonym) gave a gestation date on the cusp of the 9 weeks and 6 days, which would have put her over the limit at the start of the process. During a second call she changed the date of her last menstrual period to remain within the 9 weeks and 6 days limit and this was accepted without any questions being asked.

According to the Christian Legal Centre, all eight volunteers were rushed through the process. The legal advocacy group revealed that: “On one call, staff can be heard talking over the woman to quickly conclude the conversation by sending out the abortion pills.”

Full inquiry into ‘DIY’ home abortions announced

On Monday night, in a major victory for pro-life campaigners, a radical amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill that would have allowed ‘DIY’ home abortions to take place on a permanent basis for domestic abuse victims was withdrawn.

During the debate, pro-life MP Fiona Bruce MP put forward an amendment calling on the Government to conduct an “an inquiry into the safety, number, and impact of abortions carried out under the temporary coronavirus crisis provisions where the place of abortion was the woman’s home”.

The Government subsequently agreed to a full inquiry. But, Minister for Women Victoria Atkins MP promised that the current temporary policy of allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions would continue “until [a] public consultation concludes and a decision has been made”.

Fiona Bruce told CNA: “It is to be hoped, and we need to ensure, that this review — consultation — will properly and fairly highlight safety concerns around the taking of ‘at-home abortion pills’ which have been highlighted in recent press reports.”

Legal challenge imminent

Later this month, on 28 or 29 July, the UK Court of Appeal will hear a challenge of the UK Government’s decision to allow ‘DIY’ home abortions.

Shortly after lockdown began, without public consultation or parliamentary scrutiny, the UK Government controversially announced a policy that would allow ‘DIY’ home abortions.

The policy meant women could obtain and administer medical abortion pills at home before they reach 9 weeks and 6 days gestation.

Prior to the change, women seeking a termination would have to visit a clinic for an assessment from a healthcare professional where they would undergo a routine ultrasound scan to assess gestational age.

Significant problems from the onset

Since ‘DIY’ home abortions were introduced on 30 March, a number of significant and real problems have arisen.

In May, it was revealed UK police were investigating the death of an unborn baby after its mother took ‘DIY’ home abortion pills while 28 weeks pregnant.

In addition, abortion provider BPAS announced that it was investigating a further eight cases of women taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills beyond the 10-week limit, raising questions over what checks are being conducted to ensure the law isn’t being broken and dangerous later-term abortions aren’t happening. 

A number of women have also come forward to share the serious problems they’ve experienced after taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills.

One woman said she went through “hell” and thought she was going to die after taking the dangerous pills.

Another woman said the pain and physical process was “horrible” and “a lot worse than expected”.

‘A system that needs to be stopped immediately’

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “We’re simply asking, based on the BPAS disclosure to The Sun on May 22, that there were already eight cases where women were beyond the ten-week limit, and from our own study, how many more women have obtained and self-administered the abortion pills in breach of the regulations?

“We are for the women and we are trying to point out legitimate concerns about telemedicine services related to legal compliance, client safety, and quality of care. These women need better client-centred counselling and a face-to-face consultation in which they can be assessed by a service provider before giving their consent to this procedure. A rushed telephone call, by voice only, is not the quality of care which these women deserve.

“The system is wide open to abuse from abusers, pimps, and human traffickers.

“Abortion pills through the post is a system that needs to be stopped immediately and a thorough investigation needs to occur around the legality and practices of the two major abortion providers in the UK.”

Nationwide undercover investigation reveals ‘DIY’ abortion service putting lives at risk

A nationwide undercover investigation has found further evidence of abortion providers putting women at significant risk by not carrying out basic checks before sending them ‘DIY’ home abortion pills.

Shortly after lockdown began, the UK Government controversially brought in a policy allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions without public consultation or parliamentary scrutiny.

Prior to the change, women seeking a termination would have to visit a clinic for an assessment from a healthcare professional – something the Government had said was an “essential safeguard” before their incredible U-turn on the issue.

Now, an investigation, commissioned by the Christian Legal Centre, has uncovered that ‘DIY’ home abortion schemes are wide open to abuse and could lead to dangerous and illegal late-term abortions.

As part of the undercover investigation, eight volunteers went through the process of acquiring mifepristone and misoprostol – the pills needed to perform a ‘DIY’ home abortion.

However, in every case, pills were sent to the volunteers, despite using false names, dates of birth and gestational dates.

In one case, ‘DIY’ home abortion pills were provided to a volunteer who gave a date that could only have led to a termination beyond the legal 10-week limit stated in the regulations.

Research participant Anna gave a gestation date on the cusp of the 9 weeks and 6 days, which would have put her over the limit at the start of the process. During a second call she changed the date of her last menstrual period to remain within the 9 weeks and 6 days limit and this was accepted without any questions being asked.

According to the Christian Legal Centre, all eight volunteers were rushed through the process. The legal advocacy group revealed that: “On one call, staff can be heard talking over the woman to quickly conclude the conversation by sending out the abortion pills.”

Parliamentary pressure for ‘DIY’ home abortions

The shocking results of the undercover investigations come ahead of a potential parliamentary vote today seeking to make ‘DIY’ home abortions available on a permanent basis, for women who are in an abusive relationship.

The radical amendment is being tabled by Labour MP Diana Johnson, along with a further amendment that could leave England and Wales with the most extreme abortion law in Europe.

Contrary to BPAS’ claims, and the aims of the Domestic Abuse Bill, allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions on a permanent basis would likely result in a far greater number of women being coerced or forced into an unwanted termination.

By making both medical and surgical abortions legal outside of a hospital setting or place approved by the Secretary of State, and removing the requirement for an in-person consultation, it will be difficult for physicians and providers to ascertain if abuse or coercion is involved.

The extreme change could compromise the privacy of the patient and, in theory, could allow an abuser to hide in the background of an ‘electronic’ consultation.

According to an investigation conducted by the Independent last year, already “one in seven women in the UK have been bullied into either getting pregnant or having an abortion.” The amendment being tabled by Diana Johnson does nothing to address this coercion and will likely make the situation much worse.

Earlier this year, a pharmacist and self-styled pastor, who sexually abused children, covered up his crimes on some of his vulnerable victims by obtaining medical abortion pills through his role as a pharmacist.

Additionally, Dr Gregory Gardner, a longstanding GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, has revealed how the radical proposed changes in law could open more children and women up to abuse and coerced abortion.

In an expert witness statement for a UK Court of Appeal legal challenge against ‘DIY’ home abortions, the leading doctor said: “It will be difficult if not impossible to verify by phone or video whether a woman is undergoing any kind of duress to have an abortion.

“There does not seem to have been any consideration given to this in the proposed change in policy. There will be women who need delicate counselling to discover coercion or other forms of abuse.”

Furthermore, by removing the 10-week limit, late-term abortions, similar to the one that caused the death of an unborn baby at 28 weeks in May, will likely become more commonplace.

In addition, it was revealed a further eight cases were being investigated of women taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills beyond the current 10-week limit.

A number of women have also come forward to share the serious problems they’ve experienced after taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills.

One woman said she went through “hell” and thought she was going to die after taking the dangerous pills.

Another woman said the pain and physical process was “horrible” and “a lot worse than expected”.

Pressure in Parliament for permanent home abortions

Last week, the UK Court of Appeal announced it would hear the Christian Legal Centre’s challenge against the UK Government’s decision to introduce ‘DIY’ home abortions.

Lord Justice Lewison ruled it is “arguable” that the Health Secretary Matt Hancock exceeded his powers under the 1967 Abortion Act when he designated “a pregnant woman’s home” as a permissible place for abortion. 

In granting permission for the judicial review, Lord Justice Lewison said that Christian Concern’s argument “has a real prospect of success”, and the Court of Appeal will now hold a public hearing imminently to decide whether Mr Hancock’s decision should be invalidated.

Catastrophic consequences for vulnerable pregnant women

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “This undercover operation has exposed the dangers to vulnerable women as a result of the change in the law. This unsafe, and frequently illegal service, is provided by an abortion industry which wields huge influence at the heart of UK government.

“Pre-action disclosure in our court case reveals the hot line abortion executives have to senior civil servants at the heart of the health and social care department. This has to be investigated and overhauled.

“If Diana Johnson’s amendments go forward on Monday there will be a parliamentary debate on whether to introduce to the UK some of the most extreme abortion laws in the world . 

“It would be an abuse of the Domestic Abuse Bill to hijack it in order to decriminalise abortion at any time for any reason up to 28 weeks.

“How can a civilised parliament even contemplate such a move when we know that babies born at less than 28 weeks have a strong chance of survival.

“The revelations of how these DIY abortion services are run and the lack of due process should cause MPs to think again and to reject these dangerous amendments.

“If the amendments go through they will have catastrophic consequences for vulnerable pregnant women and for our unborn children. Abortion figures are already at record levels and we should be working toward public policies which bring down abortion numbers not increase them.

“The abortion providers are shamelessly pushing these amendments in Parliament while ignoring the safety of women who ask for their services.

“The issue of abortion is coming to a head. This public health, mystery client exercise, conducted and regulated to the highest professional standards, has exposed the chilling disregard for proper process at the heart of the abortion industry.”

‘DIY’ home abortions must be ‘urgently withdrawn’

Kevin Duffy, a former Global Director of Clinics Development at Marie Stopes International, who led the undercover investigation, said: “The investigation clearly demonstrates that abortion at home by pills-by-post, is not safe, and on many occasions it oversteps legal boundaries without any proper scrutiny.

“Each of the scenarios revealed by this investigation would not have happened under the pre-lockdown process. Previously as part of the routine care, the woman would first be examined and assessed in a clinic by a professional service provider before being consented for an abortion, which could have resulted in her being able to safely self-administer both tablets at home.

“Women can self-refer for abortion services and do not need to be referred by their GP. Telemedicine means it is much harder to correctly identify the woman and what her gestational stage is. Service providers using the telemedicine process are solely reliant upon the accurate and honest self-assessment by the woman of the gestational age of her pregnancy, her self-reporting of the first day of her last period has replaced the routine examination by a service provider in a clinic.

“It is deeply concerning that the abortion industry has been allowed to take this service this far during an already highly vulnerable time for pregnant women. The process of wholly relying on telemedicine must be withdrawn urgently.”

Court of Appeal will hear challenge against ‘DIY’ home abortions

The Court of Appeal has granted permission to hear a challenge against the UK Government’s decision to introduce ‘DIY’ home abortions.

The legal challenge being brought forward by the Christian Legal Centre was initially rejected by the High Court back in May.

However, the Court of Appeal has now granted permission for judicial review.

Significant problems

Since ‘DIY’ home abortions were introduced on 30 March, a number of significant problems have arisen.

In May, it was revealed UK police were investigating the death of an unborn baby after its mother took ‘DIY’ home abortion pills while 28 weeks pregnant.

In addition, abortion provider BPAS announced that it was investigating a further eight cases of women taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills beyond the 10-week limit, raising questions over what checks are being conducted to ensure the law isn’t being broken and dangerous later-term abortions aren’t happening. 

A number of women have also come forward to share the serious problems they’ve experienced after taking ‘DIY’ home abortion pills.

One woman said she went through “hell” and thought she was going to die after taking the dangerous pills.

Another woman said the pain and physical process was “horrible” and “a lot worse than expected”.

Government’s dangerous U-turn allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions

Despite assurances from the Government that there would be “no change” to abortion regulations and that in-person consultations remain “an essential safeguard” for women, the Government brought in a policy allowing ‘DIY’ home abortions shortly after lockdown began.

The very substantial change was made without any public consultation, parliamentary scrutiny or debate.

Prior to the change in regulations, abortions could only take place in hospitals or abortion clinics approved by the Secretary of State.

Under the new ‘temporary’ policy, doctors are able to prescribe mifepristone and misoprostol over the phone or video platforms such as Facetime or Skype, meaning women will be left to pass their unborn child at home without direct medical supervision.

The Government had initially stated its intention to allow ‘DIY’ abortions on 23 March, but backtracked later that day claiming the announcement had been “published in error.”

The government web page that had published the changes instead had the following message for visitors: “The information on this page has been removed because it was published in error. This was published in error. There will be no changes to abortion regulations.”

Just one day later, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock reassured the House of Commons that there would be no change to any abortion laws in response to COVID-19.

Additionally, Health Minister Lord Bethell made it very clear that there were significant safety and safeguarding issues for women and young girls with the proposal. 

As the Coronavirus Bill was brought to the House of Lords on Wednesday 25 March, Lord Bethell rejected strongly, on behalf of the Government, the proposed changes to abortion law, stating:

“….we do not agree that women should be able to take both treatments for medical abortion at home. We believe that it is an essential safeguard that a woman attends a clinic, to ensure that she has an opportunity to be seen alone and to ensure that there are no issues.

“Do we really want to support an amendment that could remove the only opportunity many women have, often at a most vulnerable stage, to speak confidentially and one-to-one with a doctor about their concerns on abortion and about what the alternatives might be? The bottom line is that, if there is an abusive relationship and no legal requirement for a doctor’s involvement, it is far more likely that a vulnerable woman could be pressured into have an abortion by an abusive partner.”

He also made it clear that it would be inappropriate to make this change without parliamentary scrutiny: “It is not right to rush through this type of change in a sensitive area such as abortion without adequate parliamentary scrutiny.”

Despite these clear statements, the Government went against its own warnings and, in an incredible double U-turn, announced on 30 March it would allow ‘DIY’ home abortions.

Through their legal challenge, the Christian Legal Centre wants the dangerous legislation overturned immediately and full disclosure of the Government’s decision-making process and rationale.

Serious risk of harm and coercion

Their case is being backed by former Government Minister Ann Widdecombe and Dr Gregory Gardner.

In an expert witness statement for the High Court challenge, Dr Gregory Gardner, a longstanding GP and honorary clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, highlights the risk of serious injury and harm to women self-administering abortion pills.

“The introduction of home abortions as proposed (notwithstanding the presence of a Covid-19 pandemic) is a policy that is more likely than not to depart from the essential tenets of duty of care through proper clinical assessment, thereby raising the risk of serious injury and harm being done to women self-administering Mifepristone and Misoprostol at home,” Dr Gardner wrote.

In addition to citing risks of infection, haemorrhage, psychological trauma, and risk of future preterm birth, Dr Gardner explains how the Government’s decision could result in more women being coerced into unwanted abortions.

He said: “It will be difficult if not impossible to verify by phone or video whether a woman is undergoing any kind of duress to have an abortion. There does not seem to have been any consideration given to this in the proposed change in policy. There will be women who need delicate counselling to discover coercion or other forms of abuse.”

Former Government minister Ann Widdecombe has also written a statement to the high court in support of the legal challenge.

In her statement, the former Shadow Health Secretary reveals the history of the legislation which has enabled health services in England, Scotland & Wales to roll out ‘DIY’ abortions.

During a parliamentary debate in 1990, Miss Widdecombe raised concerns that an amendment to abortion legislation, allowing the Health Secretary to designate “a class of places” as suitable for abortions would inadvertently pave the way for ‘DIY’ home abortions.

However, the author of the amendment, Robert Key MP, dismissed Miss Widdecombe’s concerns and accused the then Conservative MP of speaking from “the whip issued by the pro-life group” and misleading Parliament.

The Health Secretary at the time, Kenneth Clarke, then assured MPs that the legislation was not intended to legalise home abortions and that abortions would be “administered only in closely regulated circumstances under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner”.

Now, 30 years later, Ann Widdecombe’s previously dismissed concerns have become a reality.

When the legal challenge was launched, Ann Widdecombe said: “Parliament was told one thing. Government is doing another and that says it all.”