Global Reproductive Rights

UK Government Permits Medication Abortions at Home During Coronavirus Lockdown

The United Kingdom government announced that it will allow patients to perform medication abortions at home during the national coronavirus lockdown. The decision follows a week of confusion over abortion access in the UK after the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) issued and then hours later rescinded its initial order to allow home abortions.

Under the DHSC’s temporary new rules, patients who are up to ten weeks pregnant can receive abortion pills through the mail after a phone or video consultation with a doctor instead of having to go to a clinic. Reproductive health organizations—including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) —had urged the government to adopt such measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 without restricting abortion access.

Medication abortion, the most common abortion method in the UK, involves taking two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, that stop fetal development and cause the uterus to empty, a process similar to an early miscarriage. Before the enactment of the new rules, patients had to visit a clinic to receive the pills. They were required to take the first pill at the clinic and could take the second at home.

The new DHSC guidelines provide clarity for providers and patients after a series of confusing statements on the provision of abortion services during the pandemic. On March 23, DHSC announced on its website that it would be allowing home administration of both pills. Just hours later, DHSC reversed its decision, stating, “This was published in error. There will be no changes to how abortion services are regulated.” Now, the government has returned to its position of allowing patients to take both abortion pills at home.

“This is a very safe and simple measure that will dramatically improve women’s access to care at this time of national crisis,” said Claire Murphy, the director of external affairs at BPAS. “We’re really pleased that the government has acted on this. It will make a huge difference to women’s health and wellbeing in the current climate.”

Sources: Independent 3/30/20; BBC News 3/24/20; The Guardian 3/30/20