Women will be forced into illegal abortions if the government does not extend rules that allow abortion pills to be taken at home, doctors have warned.
Healthcare providers from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) are concerned about plans to scrap the rules that were put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, women could only take abortion medication in a hospital or clinic. However, the regulations were temporarily relaxed in March 2020 across England, Scotland and Wales to avoid spreading the virus.
The change meant that people early in pregnancy could take abortion pills at home following a telephone consultation.
According to figures published by the Department for Health and Social Care, of the more than 100,00 abortions performed in England and Wales between January to June 2020, 82 per cent were medical abortions.
After former health secretary Matt Hancock announced the change in abortion rules, medical abortions at home surged to 88 per cent in April 2020 compared to 78 per cent the month before. The amended rules are set to expire on 30 March.
A poll of more 1,100 women conducted by Savanta Com-Res for the FSRH last December found that the majority (65 per cent) of women across the UK want telemedicine for early medical abortion to become a permanent option.
Dr Asha Kasliwal, president of the FSRH, said in a statement: “This is not about choosing between face-to-face and remote consultations; this is about ensuring that all options are available so that patients can get the best treatment that suits their needs and preferences.
“We can hear women’s voices in these results. There is no reason for governments to delay making telemedicine for early medical abortion a permanent feature of healthcare.
“We urge governments across the UK to listen to women and make the regulations that allow for telemedical abortion services to become permanent.”
Dr Edward Morris, president of the RCOG, added that there is “no medical justification” to withdraw the service.
He told The Times: “If providers are unable to cope with running a face-to-face service, women and girls will be unable to access the vital health services that they need and this could force them to access illegal methods of abortion.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told The Independent: “We are committed to maintaining a safe and caring environment for all women who need an abortion.
“The current temporary measures allow eligible women to use both pills for early medical abortion – which goes up to 10 weeks of gestation – at home. We will announce our decision on the future of these provisions as soon as possible.”