UK abortion law briefly changes during Covid-19 outbreak | World news

The UK government published then deleted changes to abortion law that would have allowed women to access medical terminations without travelling to a clinic, leaving women’s health charities “staggered”.

In the guidance, which was published for at least five hours on Monday, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said: “The secretary of state for health and social care has approved two temporary measures in England to limit the transmission of coronavirus (Covid-19) and ensure continued access to early medical abortion services.”

The changes were to ensure that women could take both pills required for an early medical abortion in their own homes – without the need to attend a hospital or clinic first, and to allow doctors to prescribe the pills from their own homes. The technical details that accompanied the news showed that the goals were to be achieved by defining both the doctor’s and pregnant woman’s homes as “approved places” for carrying out abortions.

But at 8pm on Monday night, the changes were suddenly deleted from Gov.UK, with the only accompanying explanation stating: “This was published in error. There will be no changes to abortion regulations.” A DHSC spokesperson repeated the statement, and declined to offer an explanation as to how the error occurred or whether the government no longer felt the changes were necessary to limit the transmission of coronavirus.

A British Pregnancy Advisory Service spokesperson said the organisation was “staggered by the reversal”, which came 30 minutes before the televised address in which Boris Johnson announced strict new measures to ensure physical distancing across the UK.

“We can only assume it is a bureaucratic blunder which will soon be rectified,” they said. “It simply makes no sense at all that as the prime minister was ordering people to stay in their homes last night, the Department of Health was overturning a decision that would have enabled tens of thousands of women to access early abortion care lawfully at home, protecting their own health, that of their families, and that of the doctors, nurses and midwives who care for them.

“Women with heath conditions, those self-isolating or caring for poorly family members simply cannot leave their homes at the moment – we are being contacted by women in desperate circumstances, incredibly anxious about what they should do. We urge the government to reinstate this safe and sensible policy as well as amend the law to enable one healthcare professional to authorise an abortion.”

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Under current law, women in England must take the first of the two pills required for a medical abortion in an abortion clinic, but may take the second pill at home, where they should take it 48-72 hours later. In Scotland and Wales, women may collect both pills to take home.

Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaigns manager, said the organisation was seeking clarification from the government. “The need for this, particularly during the current Covid-19 pandemic, is evident,” she said. “We reiterate our calls to the Northern Ireland Office to deliver this service urgently.”

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