MPs have voted to make permanent the emergency Covid measures permitting unsupervised home abortions in England, just weeks after the Government promised they would end.
The 215 to 188 vote in favour of Baroness Sugg’s amendment to the Health and Care Bill means women and girls will continue to be able to procure abortion pills following a phone or video consultation with a doctor if they are believed to be less than ten weeks pregnant.
The temporary measures were originally set to come to an end this month. A few weeks ago, the Government announced it would extend the scheme until August. But it then allowed free votes in Parliament on a back-bench amendment to make the scheme permanent.
During the debate, Christian MP Fiona Bruce said the rules had already led to “unacceptable health and safety risks to women and girls”, and added that she was “notably concerned about the greater risk of coercion by a partner or family member, where the doctor does not see the woman in person”.
Caroline Johnson MP, a former paediatrician, pointed out that the legislation allowed children to take the pills at home, and said that if the issue had been debated properly as a single issue, “we would have stipulated that children under the age of 18 should not be receiving abortions over the telephone without proper appointments”.
unacceptable health and safety risks to women and girls
Sir Edward Leigh told the House: “more than 10,000 women who took at least one abortion pill at home provided by the NHS in 2020 needed hospital treatment. There is therefore an issue around safety and women’s health and we need a proper debate.”
He added that the amendment “would be a huge new step that I believe would put more women’s health at risk and possibly lead to coercion”.
No parliamentary scrutiny
DUP MP Carla Lockhart said: “The changes to allow abortions at home were introduced without parliamentary scrutiny or public consultation. Now that we have evidence about how it works in practice, we know the policy presents huge risks to women’s health and safety.”
She added: “As it stands, abortion providers are unable to guarantee that they know who takes the pills, when or where they are taken or whether an adult is present, given the risk of complications, such as the delivery of live babies.”
She concluded: “Abortion harms the voiceless, the most vulnerable in our society, and it harms women and girls.”
Abortion harms the voiceless, the most vulnerable in our society, and it harms women and girls.
Lockhart recounted the testimony of a 16-year-old girl who received abortion pills from a provider well after the ten-week limit permitted under the regulations.
Following a phone consultation with a doctor, where she was not scanned or examined, Savannah was estimated to be less than eight weeks pregnant and was prescribed the pills. She took them and began to feel “really bad” pain.
An ambulance took her to hospital where the baby was born alive, its heart still beating. Doctors estimated it was between 20 and 21 weeks old. Savannah was left traumatised by the event and said had she known how far along she was, she would have kept the baby.
Lockhart noted that Savannah’s experience is not an anomaly, as there have been at least 47 recorded cases of ‘early medical terminations’ resulting in mid- to late-term abortions, six involving young girls. In 12 of the instances, three involving under-18s, there were signs of life when the baby was born.
Putting women at risk
Catherine Robinson of Right To Life said: “This will put thousands more women at risk from ‘DIY’ home abortion services”.
She explained: “By removing a routine in-person consultation that allows medical practitioners to certify gestation and recognise potential coercion or abuse, ‘at-home’ abortion has presented serious risks to women and girls in abusive situations.
“It has allowed severe complications to occur, as well as abortions beyond the legal limit, as abortion providers currently cannot ensure the pills are taken by the intended individual within the appropriate time frame”.
‘A shameful day’
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children’s Alithea Williams said: “It is disgusting that a Healthcare bill has been hijacked to push through something that is not healthcare by any definition. Instead, it is a way to end the lives of unborn children that bypasses even the few safeguards for women that the abortion law provided.”
She added: “The Government made the right decision to end this policy after listening to the evidence, including the overwhelming results of the public consultation.
“It was bad enough that this policy was introduced as a temporary measure during a public health emergency, but for MPs to actually vote for it, without even that bad excuse, shows how little they actually care about the health and wellbeing of women. This is a shameful day.”