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.”

Assisted suicide will save NHS money and provide organs, researchers argue

Legalising assisted suicide would save the NHS money and potentially release higher quality organs for transplant argue researchers at the University of Strathclyde, raising ethical concerns.

The highly controversial paper by Dr David Shaw, an ethicist at the Universities of Basel and Maastricht, and Professor Alec Morton, a health economist and analyst, has been criticised by palliative care and pro-life groups. 

The pair say they do not intend their arguments to be used as the basis on which to change present legislation but claim that permitting assisted suicide would substantially benefit both the small population that seeks it and the larger general population.

Additionally, lead author, Dr Shaw, has dismissed criticisms from individuals – who have suggested it is callous to consider assisted suicide from the perspective of resource management – by labelling this criticism as “misplaced”.

He adds: “We are simply arguing that the economic costs of denying assisted dying should not be ignored; they should not be the key driver of any legal change, but it would be irresponsible not to consider them.”

The researchers argue that up to £74m could be saved if just one-third of the costs involved in caring for those with cancer were cut by vulnerable cancer patients opting for an assisted suicide.

In the paper, the authors write: “Organ donation could also benefit because there are several reasons why donation, after assisted dying, is better from a clinical and economic perspective.

“First, if patients are denied assisted dying, organ function will gradually deteriorate until they die naturally, meaning that transplantation is less likely to be successful. Second, patients who choose assisted dying have to go through a lengthy process, and organ donation can be easily integrated into that process…”

This year it was revealed that the legalisation of assisted suicide in Canada has led to a surge in organ donations and the open solicitation of those considering medically assisted death. In one case, a chronically ill man was denied healthcare at his home and instead offered an assisted suicide. 

Dr Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, told CNA such practices appear “rather horrifying.”

Given that a person who is approved for euthanasia may not be terminally ill, McQueen added it is not out of the realm of possibility that a primary physician “might well suggest organ donation as, if not an incentive, a kind of ‘consolation’ for the person’s own loss of life.”

The UK parliament has consistently rejected attempts by the assisted suicide lobby to introduce assisted suicide, with 330 to 118 voting against introducing assisted suicide in 2015.

A new Assisted Dying Bill by Lord Falconer has recently received its first reading in the House of Lords. Due to the busy parliamentary timetable, it is unlikely that this bill will be debated further, but it demonstrates the clear intent from the pro-assisted suicide lobby to try and change the law.  

Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, which resists any change in the law, said: “This report is highly disturbing. It highlights the dangers of legalising euthanasia. Very quickly the argument moves from that of personal autonomy to doctors and nurses making value judgments about the quality of other people’s lives while seeking to save money and tackle so-called ‘bed blocking’ in health services.” 

A spokesperson for Right To Life, Catherine Robinson said:

“You can learn a lot from paying close attention to countries and other places where assisted suicide and euthanasia has been legalised. Recent evidence from the United States demonstrates how the so-called ‘right to die’ could become the ‘duty to die’. Feelings of being a burden were cited in 55% of Oregon and 56% of Washington assisted-suicide requests in 2017.

“This is especially the case when families and health budgets are placed under financial pressure, which makes the Canadian study which found that the legalisation of assisted suicide could save the health care system up to $138 million per year so alarming. 

“Legalising assisted dying would likely lead to pressure on vulnerable people to choose the quicker, cheaper option of death over palliative care.

“This is further compounded when one considers how the legalisation of assisted dying has led to a surge in organ donations and the open solicitation of those considering medical assistance in dying (known as MAiD) in the country. 

“Rather than assist vulnerable people to end their lives, we should be looking to improve the UK’s palliative care provision and affirm their right to life.”