On 30 March 2022, the decision to end the Coronavirus pandemic’s abortion ‘pills by post’ scheme (the “Scheme”) was reversed following MPs voting to compel ministers to make the Scheme permanent.
The Scheme allows women to take the two tablets needed to terminate a pregnancy before 10 weeks from the comfort and safety of their own home or akin, as opposed to a hospital or clinic. Evidence from the effective ‘trial’ period of the Scheme throughout the lockdowns has shown that early abortion at home is a safe and important option for women. Throughout the ‘trial’ period, the Scheme was continually praised by users and healthcare professionals. The decision to allow at-home abortions to take place amends the landmark Abortion Act 1967, bringing the law more up to date with modern science and society.
The vote means that the accessibility of abortion treatment better matches the reality of the women using the service. Having an at-home option will provide the service to those who would find receiving the treatment in a clinical setting quite difficult. People facing abusive relationships, those with caring responsibilities, and those without access to transport will now all be able to have easy access to a much-needed treatment option.
Accessibility is vital for various reasons. Women choose to have abortions for a wide range of reasons and under many different circumstances and so it is important that there are options available so that women can choose the one most suitable for them at the time. Face-to-face services will remain an option for those who need or would prefer this.
The decision also only increases the safety of abortions overall. Without accessible treatment women are left to access abortion tablets illegally online or use non-medical means to force termination of their pregnancy for they see no other option. Women should not have to face criminal charges or serious health implications over a medical decision that enforces their self-autonomy. More than 150,000 people used the scheme during the pandemic, proving its popularity and just how necessary the service really is.
Specialists in the field of termination support have said this is more than a vote for evidence over ideology, but also for gender equality more widely. The president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has said that telemedicine for early medical abortion has been a success story of the pandemic, going as far as to say that removing the service would be an infringement on women’s rights to access the healthcare they deserve.
England follows Wales and Scotland who have made plans to do the same respectively. Wales have already made the service permanent with Scotland looking likely to do the same in the imminent future.
Overall, this vote is a long-awaited show of respect for women and their bodily autonomy. The service provides greater access to safe healthcare, ensuring that no women are disadvantaged because of their personal circumstances when it comes to their reproductive health. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long line of legislative and policy changes that provide women with the healthcare that they truly and rightfully deserve.
Written by Leah Harris