Move to ban home abortion pills without seeing a doctor

Women have been able to take home abortion pills without a consultation since the pandemic, when face-to-face appointments were ditched because of Covid
Women have been able to take home abortion pills without a consultation since the pandemic, when face-to-face appointments were ditched because of Covid - MEMENTOJPEG/MOMENT RF

Home abortions through pills supplied by post would be banned unless pregnant women have face-to-face consultations first under a law change proposed by a cross-party group of more than 40 MPs.

The MPs, including Thérèse Coffey and Damian Green, the former deputy prime ministers, and Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, have tabled an amendment that would ensure women had an in-person medical appointment before taking abortion pills at home.

The move – set out in an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill – would restore the approach that applied before the pandemic when face-to-face appointments were ditched as a “temporary” measure because of restrictions to stem the spread of Covid.

Supporters of the law change say it would enable medics to check for any health risks, confirm the gestational age of the woman’s baby and ensure there was no evidence of the woman being coerced into the abortion.

Among other supporters of the change are Tim Farron, the former Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former Cabinet minister, Labour MP Rachael Maskell and Maggie Throup, who was a health minister when the “pills by post” scheme was made permanent in March 2022.

It is one of a series of amendments reforming abortion laws which include decriminalising terminations after 24 weeks, reducing the time limit from 24 to 22 weeks and restricting abortions for Down’s syndrome. They are due to be considered next week.

Flick Drummond, the MP leading the amendment on pills by post, said: “Women using abortion pills at home without an in-person consultation are being put in danger from the serious risks associated with missed health issues, abortion coercion and the danger of self-administered late-term abortions.

“My amendment would reinstate in-person consultations, where medical professionals would have the opportunity to accurately assess, in-person, any likely health risks for a woman taking abortion pills, her gestational age and the possibility of a coerced abortion.

“Women would continue to be able to have a medical abortion at home, but with the vital safeguards that come with an in-person consultation. This is a common-sense proposal that already has widespread support from across the House.”

Polling of more than 2,000 adults by Whitestone Insight found that 71 per cent of women support a return to in-person appointments with only 9 per cent in favour of the status quo.

In February 2022, the Government announced the pills by post scheme without consultation would end, but a Lords amendment retaining it was passed by 27 votes the following month.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has argued that women should not have to visit a clinic to take abortion pills. They argue that medical research has shown it to be safe and that vulnerable women in abusive relationships find it far easier to talk honestly to clinicians over the phone rather than face to face.

‘Urgent reinstatement’

However, opponents say there is evidence that there are higher rates of complications with home abortions, with some requiring hospital treatment.

They cite the case of Carla Foster, who was jailed for 28 months for taking abortion pills at 32-34 weeks gestation after claiming to be seven weeks pregnant. Her sentence was later reduced to 18 months and suspended by the Court of Appeal in London.

Catherine Robinson, of Right To Life UK, said: “If Carla Foster had been given an in-person consultation, where her gestation could have been accurately determined, she would not have been able to access abortion pills and this tragic case would have been prevented.

“The clear solution here is the urgent reinstatement of in-person appointments. This would prevent women’s lives from being put at risk from self-administered late-term abortions.”