New UK Health Policy Enables Remote Access To Abortion Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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Update: On March 23, the UK government overturned the ruling detailed below, which Bustle UK covered here. Later, on March 30, the ruling was reinstated, covered here.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and national self-isolation measures, the UK government announced that it will temporarily allow medical abortions to take place at home. The new measures will mean women and girls will be able to take both pills for early medical abortion in their own homes, without the need to first attend a hospital or clinic. Under the new rules, medical practitioners will also be able to prescribe both pills for the treatment from their own homes too.

The temporary measure was approved by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, to "limit the transmission of coronavirus and ensure continued access to early medical abortion services," reads the official government website.

The move comes after "a number of organisations wrote to the health secretary urging him to amend the law during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak to stop non-essential travel of women to undergo an abortion," writes Matt Mathers, Independent.

Before the ruling, medical abortions — which terminates pregnancy using Mifepristone and Misoprostol — would need to take place in approved venues, such as GP surgeries or a licensed clinic. Since 2018, a pregnant person has been able to take the second of the two pills (Misoprostol) at home, usually 24 to 48 hours apart, to induce a miscarriage.

Normally, women seeking a medical abortion would need to get the sign-off from two medical professionals, in accordance with the 1967 Abortion Act. Per The Daily Mail, it's believed "over the next 13 weeks, 44,000 women in England and Wales are estimated to need access to an early medical abortion, requiring 88,000 signatures."

With the new measures, consultations will be provided "via video link, telephone conference or other electronic means." The new health policy effectively enables entirely remote access to abortion for pregnant people.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International UK’s Northern Ireland Campaign Manager, told the Independent that the move should become "a permanent healthcare option," and hopes this measure is also extended to Northern Ireland soon.

"Allowing both pills to be taken at home gives women the dignity and space to safely end their pregnancy," she said. "The current situation with COVID-19 has created additional barriers and hardships that means travelling for this healthcare is no longer a safe or viable option."

Abortions, both medical and surgical, can take place in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy in England, Scotland and Wales.

If you or someone you’ve been in close contact with appears to have shown or be showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, visit the NHS website in the UK to find out the next steps you should take, or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.

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