3 min read
Exclusive: Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has written to Labour MPs imploring them to support an amendment to the Health and Care Bill that would force government to U-turn on its policy to end at-home early abortion services.
A vote on the policy is due to take place in the Commons on Wednesday, with both Labour and Tory MPs being given a free vote on the issue.
In March 2020 then-health secretary Matt Hancock approved a temporary measure to permit the use of telemedicine services to access early medical abortion at home using “pills by post”.
Prior to its introduction, women were legally required to take the first course of two rounds of abortion medication in a hospital or clinic.
However, last month, the department for health and social care (DHSC) announced that abortion services in England will return to pre-pandemic arrangements from the end of August.
Earlier this month an amendment tabled by the Conservative peer Baroness Sugg, seeking to reverse DHSC’s decision to make at-home abortion services permanent, passed through the Lords.
The amendment has split Conservative MPs, with key campaigners acting behind the scenes to rally colleagues to their side.
Father of the house Sir Peter Bottomley, and former ministers Caroline Nokes and Crispin Blunt, have urged fellow Conservative MPs to vote for the amendment.
A group of Tories including Miriam Cates, Sally-Ann Hart and Fiona Bruce have been campaigning against it.
Labour MPs will not be whipped on the issue, however in his letter to MPs Streeting confirmed the shadow front bench will support Sugg and he “encourages” back benchers to do the same.
“I hope that you are able to join me in supporting this important provision on Wednesday, so women can continue to get the help they need safely and more quickly than would have been possible prior to the pandemic,” Streeting said.
“As our colleague Dame Diana Johnson has repeatedly highlighted, not making this arrangement permanent will restrict access to a vital service for women,” he added.
An online parliament petition urging government to maintain provisions for pills by post has amassed more than 14,000 signatures.
Research conducted by the British Medical Journal has found that since telemedicine was introduced, requests for abortion pills from to illicit providers in the UK Britain has fallen by 88%.
Catherine Robinson, a spokesperson for the anti-abortion campaign group Right To Life, said they were “disappointed” that at-home provision for EMA was not being ended sooner, in March as was originally proposed because they believed women were being put at risk.
“We do welcome the Government’s decision to ensure that women get an in-person appointment before having an abortion and make sure no more women are put at risk by the temporary provision from 30 August 2022,” they added.
In his letter to Labour MPs, Streeting explained: “The effect of this would be to maintain existing provisions of at-home early medical abortion following a telephone or video consultation with a clinician, which were adopted in March 2020.
“Not only did this preserve access to a vital service during the pandemic. According to Royal Colleges and other healthcare organisations, the change “created a more equitable service which has enabled thousands of people to access the care they need more quickly” and indeed more safely and effectively.”
PoliticsHome understands that a letter from government will shortly be distributed to Conservative MPs, imploring them to vote against the Sugg amendment despite no formal whipping being place.
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