With the coronavirus pandemic taking up the majority of the NHS' capacity and resource, other healthcare services are having to fall by the wayside. One such area is abortion, with numerous questions being asked about how women might go about terminating a pregnancy during this period of crisis.
Yesterday, it appeared as though the government temporarily changed the rules surrounding at-home abortion pills as a means of relieving any extra pressure on NHS services - but today it seems those amendments have been withdrawn. And needless to say, there's a lot of confusion going on as a resuly.
Generally, the rules regarding medical abortions for pregnancies terminated within the first 10 weeks are as follows:
- Women take two abortion pills in total
- The first must be taken in a clinic, under the supervision of a medical professional
- The second pill should be taken 24-48 hours after the first, but this can be done at home without supervision
Marie Stopes announced yesterday that the government had given temporary approval for both the first and the second pill to be taken at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to reduce strain on the NHS. It looked as though the amendment was in place for England, but not for Northern Ireland.
"We are delighted that the government has taken the sensible decision to relax restrictions on where medical abortions can take place, in light of COVID-19," said Jonathan Lord, Medical Director for Marie Stopes UK said yesterday, adding that the measures should "urgently" be expanded to all parts of the UK.
"Allowing women to take both sets of pills in the comfort of their own homes is a safe, convenient, confidential way of providing abortion, in line with guidance from both the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and is a service that has been provided since 2014 by our sister country programme in Australia, long before the start of the current pandemic," Lord added.
But it seems since then, there has been a change. A link to the government-official page setting out the amendment of the rules now displays a message which reads:
"The page you're looking for is no longer available. 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."
Cosmopolitan UK reached out to Marie Stopes for clarity on the situation, but it seems the non-profit is no clearer on what's going on, or why the Department of Health might have gone back on its decision to increase access to at-home abortions during this time of medical crisis.
A more recent statement from Marie Stopes' Jonathan Lord, addressing the confusion, reads:
"The approval that was given yesterday would have allowed Marie Stopes UK to start a home-based telemedicine service. This is a safe and private way during the COVID-19 crisis to have an abortion in early pregnancy whilst maintaining social isolation as recommended by government. Evidence shows that telemedicine is safe and effective, and often preferred by women, and is in line with national and international recommendations including the UK’s NICE guidance.
"We are seeking urgent clarification from the Department of Health to understand why they gave approval for home-based early medical abortion and then withdrew it. Access to abortion care must remain a priority during this crisis and we are working closely with medical bodies and other independent providers to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. We are concerned that without this approval women will be denied best practice care. Also there is an increased risk of spreading COVID-19 infection both among women in a clinic, and between women and staff, many of whom also work in the wider NHS.
Cosmopolitan UK will bring you an update to the situation as soon as one is available.
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