At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many emergency laws were railroaded through the British Parliament. One measure that slipped under the radar was a new at-home abortion policy sponsored by the since disgraced Matt Hancock, then the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
These temporary provisions gave women and girls permission for the first nine weeks of pregnancy to take abortion pills in their own homes, rather than being required to have them administered at an in-person clinic or hospital. The move came amid fears that such places would be overwhelmed by the first wave of COVID-19. On the 30th of March, 2020, the law passed with immediate effect in England. On March 31st, the Welsh Minister for Health followed suit by approving the same in Wales.
The temporary measure, having spent nearly two years on the statute books, was due to expire at the end of this month. However, the British government has since stated that the approval will be extended a further six months to end at midnight on August 29th, 2022. Despite having had 24 months to ready themselves for the initial expiry date of March 30th this year, government officials insist that the extension until August is required “to enable providers to prepare for a safe, reliable return to pre-pandemic arrangements.”
Meanwhile, pro-abortion groups bemoaned the fact that the provisions, made for short-term purposes, are not being passed permanently into law, as Wales has now done. MSI Reproductive Choices UK immediately condemned the British government’s decision to go ahead with an expiry date as “indefensible.” MSI is Britain’s leading independent abortion provider, both medical (involving pills) and surgical. Since the at-home authorization of mifepristone and misoprostol, the two best-known medications manufactured to kill unborn children, MSI has allowed women to self-refer via a phone consultation—known as ‘telemedicine’—to have pills sent directly to their homes. They charge £85.00 for the virtual consultation and £475.00 for the drugs themselves.
The total cost is either paid by the client herself or by NHS funding, but the money goes to MSI. Needless to say, the emergency authorization of at-home abortion pills has worked wonders for their business model. iNews reports: “Around 100,000 women in England and Wales had an abortion at home in the past two years as a result of the temporary amendment.”
MSI’s internal statistics reveal that more than 40,000 of these women have been their own clients. Throughout the whole of 2019, before telemedical abortions were approved, MSI facilitated the drug-induced killing of 44,417 unborn babies. In 2021, the only full year in which the pills have been available for use at home as well as in clinics, that figure rose to 52,087 (31,003 at MSI clinics and 21,084 within their clients’ homes). In other words, the additional licence since April 2020 to offer women telemedical abortion services coincides with a 17% increase from 2019 to 2021 in the number of unborn children killed by MSI’s deadly drugs.
UK abortion providers as a whole have clearly benefitted from the new policy, which has made it easier for women to access and pay for their services. In 2020 alone, medical abortions accounted for 85% of those conducted in England and Wales, a sharp increase of 12% from those classed as medical in 2019, before the at-home pills were temporarily approved. This does not even account for the fact that abortion drugs could only be sent by post for eight months of 2020, having been licensed from April 1st onwards. The 2021 statistics, when released, are therefore likely to be even greater.
But Jonathan Lord, MSI’s medical director, has given ethical reasons for why the 2020 provision should be made permanent: “The service has reduced waiting times and provided greater choice, which is particularly vital for vulnerable clients, such as women in abusive relationships or anyone else who can’t safely travel to a clinic.”
Responding to Lord’s concerns, Catherine Robinson, a spokesperson for Right to Life UK, argued that keeping the provisions in place was the real threat to women’s safety:
With at-home abortions, there is a high risk of women facing coercion and abuse since it is impossible to verify that the woman’s remote consultation is being held in privacy.
Anyone, a family member, friend or abuser, could intentionally or unintentionally overhear the phone or video consultation, infringing on the woman’s privacy and confidentiality.
This poses a threat to vulnerable women and girls who are at risk from an abusive partner, sex trafficking or child-sex abuse, as the ‘at-home’ abortion could be exploited by their abusers to disguise trafficking or abuse scandals.
Given that domestic abuse and coercion remain ever-present threats to women’s health and safety, it is unreasonable to weaken such a substantial safeguard by removing the protection of women’s privacy and confidentiality that comes from an in-person consultation.
A nationwide undercover investigation, undertaken by Kevin Duffy, a former Global Director of Clinics Development at Marie Stopes International, found evidence of abortion providers putting women at significant risk by not carrying out basic checks before sending them ‘DIY’ home abortion pills. The investigation also discovered ‘DIY’ home abortion pills can easily be obtained and administered to others, potentially in a coercive manner.
Commenting on the extension until August, she said:
As the current temporary provision continues to put women at risk, we are disappointed that the provision has not been ended on its planned expiry date of 30 March 2022, but we do welcome the government’s decision to ensure that women get an in-person appointment before having an abortion and to make sure that no more women are put at risk by the temporary provision from 30 August 2022.
According to the latest official statistics, 209,917 unborn children were killed throughout 2020 across England and Wales in abortions both surgical and medical. This is the highest number killed in one year since the 1967 Abortion Act. The figures for 2021 have not yet been published.