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Coronavirus: Government relaxes abortion rules during COVID-19 crisis

Women unable to access a clinic will be able to use abortion pills at home as the government temporarily relaxes rules during the coronavirus crisis.

The Department for Health and Social Care will soon be issuing updated guidance in a move welcomed by medical bodies and healthcare charities.

Under the updated guidance, women who need a medical abortion up to ten weeks will be able to hold a telephone or online consultation with a doctor.

They will then be able to use abortion pills at home.

The change in abortion rules is being time limited for two years or until the coronavirus crisis is over.

Advertisement Image: Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously said there were ‘no proposals’ to change abortion rules

The move had initially been announced last week, but government officials later said it was “published in error”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock subsequently told MPs there were “no proposals to change any abortion rules” as part of the COVID-19 response.

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Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) welcomed the government’s now changed stance on Monday.

She said: “We welcome the confirmation we have received today that the government will re-instate telemedicine for early medical abortion in England.

“This will prevent tens of thousands of women from having to travel needlessly to clinics and will also enable many of our healthcare professionals to provide teleconsultations and prescriptions from the safety of their own homes.”

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But Ms Furedi added her charity remains “extremely concerned” about the ability of women in other parts of the UK to access abortion care during the pandemic.

“In Northern Ireland, abortion care is now lawful, but services have not yet been established and telemedical abortion care is not permitted under the regulations produced by the government last week,” she added.

“As a result, women are being forced to travel hundreds of miles via ferry and public transport to clinics in England at a time when they are also being told to stay at home to save lives.

“We urge policymakers to now implement similar measures to permit telemedical abortion services in Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency.”

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Women ending a pregnancy in its first ten weeks have to take two pills 24 to 48 hours apart.

In 2018, England followed Scotland and Wales by allowing the second pill to be taken at home in some cases.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said allowing women to take both abortion pills at home was a “vital and necessary step” as the country battles coronavirus.

“Giving women the option of taking both abortion pills at home following a video consultation is safe and effective and has rightly been judged as a vital and necessary step if we are to limit the spread of COVID-19,” a spokesperson said.

“Many women will no longer be forced to make the difficult decision between leaving their home and continuing with an unwanted pregnancy.”

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Confirming the action, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Public safety and continued access to key services is our priority during this difficult period.

“We are updating our guidance so women who need an abortion up to ten weeks and can’t access a clinic can use abortion pills at home.

“This measure will be on a temporary basis and must follow a telephone or e-consultation with a doctor.

“We will set out the next steps, including updated guidance, shortly.”


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