Politicians should consider the costs of this radical move carefully
The government’s decision to permit at-home abortion during the pandemic, which allows women to take both pills in their own homes (as opposed to taking the second at an abortion clinic), was unwise. Not only was it taken with zero public consultation and little parliamentary scrutiny, the measure may now become permanent. Following a consultation, a decision is expected from the Government imminently.
As is often the case when it comes to any abortion-related issue, opponents of the change have been accused of anti-woman prejudice. According to Ella Whelan, there is:
Leaving aside the fact that women are slightly more ‘pro-life’ than men, it is both patronising and inaccurate to claim that sceptics of at-home abortion, many of whom are women in highly qualified medical professions, are ‘denying’ women’s rational capabilities.
When one acknowledges the reality of this scheme, one wonders why there are not more healthcare professionals expressing concern over the measure — despite the fact that the majority of GPs have indicated serious concerns when surveyed on the issue.
It is, for example, impossible to estimate a pregnancy’s gestation over the phone. As of December 2020, there were at least 52 cases reported to the Department of Health and Social Care of women who used pills-by-post beyond 10 weeks gestation, including a case where the pregnancy was a month on from the legal time limit.
What’s more, the process is not as simple as women having to pop a few pills and leaving it at that. Around three in 100 medical abortions of up to nine weeks’ gestation require a surgical abortion, and this figure rises to seven in 100 for gestations of nine to 10 weeks.
While the in-person process is, like any medical procedure, far from risk-free, severe issues are more likely to result if abortions are undertaken without the minimum of a preliminary examination to diagnose accurate gestational age and identify issues such as ectopic pregnancies.
Of course, we must not deny women’s agency on this issue, but nor is it in our interest to relentlessly expand abortion access when it is at the expense of our own safety.
Indeed, a staggering 7% of British women have been pressured into an abortion by their husband or partner. This kind of abuse is far likelier to go unchecked if no face-to-face appointments are required.
Polling on this issue is clear: it shows a high degree of public concern over at-home abortion. Should the Government wish to enact the most radical change to abortion law since 1967, it should think very carefully about the consequences before doing so.