UK anti-abortion advocates are seething following a High Court ruling that upholds patients’ ability to terminate an early-term pregnancy at home using the abortion pill — also called a medical or medication abortion — without the presence of a doctor.
In the past, patients using the pill to terminate a pregnancy would take the first dose of the two-pill regimen in a hospital or clinic after meeting with a doctor. They could then return home to take the second dose without medical supervision.
But in the current pandemic era, when it’s safest to keep clinical environments as empty as possible, the government has modified the law around medication abortions. Now the entire treatment can take place in the relative safety of one’s own home. Consultation with a doctor is still required, but can happen via phone or video conference without increasing either party’s risk of contracting or spreading the virus.
True to form, anti-abortion Christians attacked the change, just as they attack every change that might make it easier for pregnant people to access abortion easily, safely, and without shame or judgment.
Thus the group Christian Concern brought a case against the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) before the High Court, arguing that the loosened regulations surrounding what they call “DIY abortion” are dangerous both to women and to democracy.
Representing the anti-abortion stance, barrister Michael Phillips said the issue went beyond the question of appropriate medical care in the time of COVID-19, leaving those who might become pregnant without the protection of law:
Women’s lives have been put at risk because of this amendment. This is not just about abortion procedures to be followed in the pandemic; it is about the usurping of proper parliamentary procedure.
By contrast, DHSC barrister Julia Smythe argued that the change was reasonable in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, since the closures it caused would have left many patients unable to access medication abortions without this change to the law.
In Tuesday’s decision, Lord Justice Singh agreed with her. He ruled that the policy change was well within the government’s rights as outlined in the 1967 Abortion Act. He further concluded that the change was appropriate for these unprecedented times:
It was plainly open to a reasonable Secretary of State to conclude that women who otherwise needed lawful and properly regulated abortion services would not be able to access them in the current emergency without this approval being made.
For anti-abortion groups, of course, that’s exactly the point. They want access to abortion to remain as narrow as possible.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, says that her organization intends to appeal the decision immediately. She believes she and her compatriots are protecting women from the physical and psychological risks of abortion as well as from the risk of coercion from family members:
We intend to appeal this judgment in order to preserve our hard-won democratic freedoms which do not allow the government to make dangerous changes to the law without proper evidence or parliamentary scrutiny. This is not an academic matter. As the government said itself, this policy puts many vulnerable women at risk.
Williams is alluding to a government miscommunication that happened at the very beginning of the COVID crisis. Christian Concern argues that Parliament initially decided not to change existing abortion laws, rendering medication abortions inaccessible without a doctor’s visit, but then reversed their decision after pressure from industry lobbyists.
That take on events, though, ignores that the initial report from the DHSC stated that home-based medication abortions would be available during the pandemic without requiring an in-person medical visit. That information was later withdrawn from the UK government’s website, replaced by a page explaining that it had been “published in error.”
When that information was withdrawn from the UK government’s website, it was Members of Parliament (not abortion lobbyists) who objected, pointing out that the relaxed restrictions were approved by a range of professional groups from within the relevant fields of medicine. What’s more, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service all petitioned Health Secretary Matt Hancock, asking him to reinstate the amended law.
In spite of this, Christian Concern continues to deny that the decision to permit unsupervised medication abortions after a phone or video consult is evidence-based. They paint a picture of a government that has consigned countless defenseless women to psychological trauma and coercion by allowing them to seek abortions without having to risk contracting COVID-19.
(They seem utterly unconcerned with the psychological trauma and coercion that come with being required to carry to term and give birth against their will.)
The change is in effect for a maximum of two years, at which time it can be revisited, though it can also be rescinded once the medical system returns to normal.
(Image via Shutterstock)