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Women in England can now access abortion pills at home during quarantine

New legislation allows temporary access to abortion pills, but campaigners are asking why this doesn’t apply to Northern Ireland

Last week, you may have read the painstaking news that the UK government had agreed to make abortion pills accessible from home during the coronavirus crisis and then revoked that vital promise. You may have even signed the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) petition that was going around to ask that the government once again make this possible, given that – while we are under quarantine at least – many women cannot access abortion clinics.

Thankfully, the Department of Health and Social Care has now issued a statement claiming that emergency measures are to be put in place to ensure that women have access to essential abortion services from home, for up to two years or until the current crisis ends. This legislation only applies to England, since you can already access abortion pills at home in Scotland and Wales. How you acquire the pills has not yet been made totally clear, however, it will require a phone consultation with your GP first, according to Stylist, and be available to women who are up to ten weeks pregnant.

“Public safety and continued access to key services is our priority during this difficult period,” the statement from the UK government reads. “We are updating our guidance so women who need an abortion up to ten weeks and can’t access a clinic can use abortion pills at home. This measure will be on a temporary basis and must follow a telephone or e-consultation with a doctor. We will set out the next steps, including updated guidance, shortly.”

According to Dr Patricia Lohr, medical director at Bpas, urgent clarity on this is required, so that access can be granted immediately. “Many women with unwanted pregnancies are currently unable to leave their homes or are having to travel across the country to access care as services buckle, putting themselves and those they come into contact with at needless risk,” she said. “Every day of delay forces hundreds of women from their homes, including those with underlying health conditions… Women need help and they need it now.”

While the government statement comes as good news, unfortunately, it does not apply to Northern Ireland – despite the fact that abortion was decriminalised there in October 2019. Northern Irish abortion services were supposed to be introduced in April 2020 but it has not been made clear how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect this, or more importantly, how women can access abortion in the interim. 

Naomi Connor, from Alliance for Choice, an organisation campaigning for abortion access in Northern Ireland has said: 

“We are deeply concerned that no consideration has been given to the impact on COVID-19 on both travel and the availability of abortion appointments as services shut down. We should not place women and pregnant people at risk of unsafe abortion when there is a scientific, safe, and readily available alternative.”

Alliance for Choice have created a petition calling on Northern Irish health minister Robin Swann to allow women to be able to take abortion telemedicine at home. You can sign it and find out more on their website.