The abortion pill u-turn is shameful

Amid the coronavirus crisis, allowing women to take this medication at home makes perfect sense.

Ann Furedi


Abortion has become so commonplace – such an obvious, easy-to-access solution for a crisis pregnancy – that most of us have begun to take it for granted. While it’s true that, on paper, British abortion law is among the strictest in the modern Western world, in practice it is interpreted so liberally that we forget the restrictions exist.

It is only today, as we face an unprecedented viral pandemic that has us locked in our homes, that the illiberalism of the law hits home – because it stops abortion being made available to women in their own homes. Telemedicine allows us to provide women with a proper medical consultation remotely and deliver the abortion pills by post. But we are prohibited from doing so by law. In response to the coronavirus crisis, health secretary Matt Hancock this week offered temporarily to allow women to take the medication at home. But hours later he reversed the decision for reasons that are not at all clear.

The current law says that women have physically to attend an abortion clinic to swallow the tablet of mifepristone that starts the abortion process. It is in the gift of the secretary of state to change that. And on Monday Hancock held out that gift… and then snatched it back. The approval order that would allow women to receive abortion pills from providers and then take them at home was signed and sent – and then, with no explanation, it was withdrawn.

This is irrational and just plain stupid. It is right and proper that government does not allow mission-creep of its emergency actions – and it would be unsanctionable to try to use them here to dodge a parliamentary debate on abortion. But no one wants that – certainly not bpas, which advocates for more discussion and debate on reproductive choice. But abortion is an issue that uncomfortably straddles politics and practicality. It speaks to core values about how we view life in the womb, but also to basic principles of public health.

Women do not have abortions to demonstrate their philosophy or to make a statement. They avail themselves of a clinical procedure to end their pregnancy because they do not feel it is right to have a child. To deny a woman access to a safe, legal means of abortion is to cause her real harm. To deny her access simply because she cannot attend a clinic appointment is bizarre beyond belief – particularly now the nation is in lockdown.

The quarantine makes women more likely to get pregnant unintentionally. Contraception supplies, from condoms to the morning-after pill, are harder to get at the moment, and possibly not at the forefront of your mind if you’re juggling your child’s online maths lesson with trying to work from home and remembering to pick up a prescription when you’ve already endured the queue to get into the supermarket.

If you are or think you are infected with Covid-19, or are particularly vulnerable to it, you can’t get to a clinic without risking your health or that of others. It is a particular challenge if the clinic is a distance from home and you need to use public transport, which is increasingly unreliable due to staff shortages. No one can pick up the medication for you – for the same reason we cannot send the pills to you by post. It’s only legal to take them if you are standing in the clinic. The health minister responsible for abortion should be particularly sensitive to all this, because she lives in a town in Kent that is a train and a bus ride away from her nearest clinic – it can be a four-hour round trip. Abortion pills aren’t available from GPs.

For many women, getting physically to an abortion clinic can be a nightmare – as can getting the appointment they need before they can attend. The pressure on the health service at the moment has made things incredibly difficult. As I write this, a quarter of bpas units are closed, because of staff shortages or the closure of healthcare facilities that we usually operate from. Nurses, midwives, doctors and the amazing staff in the call centre are as prone to infection and quarantine requirements as the rest of us mortals.

If the government does not address this problem the consequences will be stark. Large numbers of abortion services – both in the NHS and the independent sector – will close and capacity to treat women will plummet. Tens of thousands of women will be forced to make clinically unnecessary and lengthy journeys to attend clinics and NHS hospitals, increasing the risk of Covid-19 spreading among the general population and frontline doctors, nurses and midwives. It is anticipated that 44,000 women will need to access early medical abortions over the next three months, during the pandemic’s peak. Doctors, nurses and midwives will be placed at an increased risk of contracting the virus, spreading the virus to other patients, and will be unable to provide essential healthcare due to illness.

There are many aspects of the Covid-19 crisis that are outside the government’s control. But allowing access to abortion is as simple as signing an order. Matt Hancock even has one already drawn up. All he has to do is sign it – we at bpas will then do the rest.

Ann Furedi is the author of The Moral Case for Abortion and chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

Picture by: Getty.

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Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 12:11 pm

Hmmm. I know of various health crises here and there, and even the odd diplomatic crisis, but just what the f is a “pregnancy crisis”? It’s just that most of couples l know treat a pregnancy as anything but a crisis, you demented ghoul..more something to rejoice about.

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 12:15 pm

Actually, l do seem to recall Smella Kneelin’ saying that she knew personally of women having to “cop off” and quite uncontrollably, as she so eloquently put it…are these things related?

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 12:24 pm

Do you think the lights go out when you die? Do you actually believe that you’ll be unaccountable for what you do? Christ is responsible dor what He makes, and you destroy that on behalf of satan. You’ll meet up with every, single last person that denied life on earth to.

You’ve got a lot of explaining to do…l want you to go back to the time in your mind when you knew this was wrong; and I’m 100% sure it’s there. Pls think about this.

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 12:31 pm

Personally, I’d describe what you do as both barbaric and cowardly. Now, would you descibe these kinds of acts as Godly, or diabolical?

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 12:34 pm

“Discussion and debate on reproductive choice” ?

As if there should be such a thing? You’re basically representing w hores, and then exploiting them financially. How ..worldly.

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 12:37 pm

Yep, they “FEEL” as if it isn’t “right” to have a child…cos it …what exactly? Interferes with their w horing? You’d be in a dungeon by now if l was in charge.

Rebel Saint

28th March 2020 at 1:05 am

The sick irony of her argument probably alludes her: “As we all lock ourselves into isolation in order to save the lives of the vulnerable, it is essential that we should allow the murder of other vulnerable lives be made easier”.

Peter Baker

27th March 2020 at 4:15 pm

Perhaps people might like to purchase my book ‘The Moral Case for Machine Gunning Refugee Boats’ shortly to be available on Amazon.

If we machine gunned any boats we find, then people would stop trying to cross the sea in unsafe boats and thousands of lives would be saved.

Katie Hopkins has already suggested this and she is a moral philosopher on a par with the greats so I am absolutely certain that my moral case is watertight.

I believe you can also purchase a book proving the moral case for abortion – so I don’t know what the rest of you are objecting to really.

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 12:47 pm

Not bad, but you betrayed yourself with the third line….

Dodgy Geezer

27th March 2020 at 3:03 pm

I wonder if a readily available abortion pill will result in some women taking it unintentionally?

Boyfriends and others might have a lot of opportunity to covertly dose someone…

Miranda Perfitt

27th March 2020 at 2:49 pm

Is the abortion pill different from the morning after pill? Just asking.

Guy Green

27th March 2020 at 3:50 pm

Presumably one prevents pregnancy, the other terminates pregnancy

christopher barnard

27th March 2020 at 12:30 pm

‘…bpas, which advocates for more discussion and debate on reproductive choice’.

Last I heard they were trying to get peaceful demos outside abortion clinics moved elsewhere.

That smacks of intolerance of dissent from its own views.

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 12:51 pm

I’m greatly appreciative of any anything that you or anyone else might share about these low-lifes, Christopher.

David Webb

27th March 2020 at 11:42 am

Ann, just stop it. You seem stuck in a 1970s time warp. If woman don’t want to get pregnant, they should take precautions before leaping on men. To argue that women should be able to abort after the fact is to assume that women are incapable of controlling their own lives properly. Why don’t you tell women to pull themselves together and not behave recklessly in the first place?

Kathy Ungar

27th March 2020 at 11:29 am

Stunning that with the health services straining every nerve to save lives, the fact that some lives might be saved, escape an abortion and get to be born is seen as somehow intolerable… A woman who is pregnant is already a mother, just as the father is a father – they should be helped to be just that. There is help out their from various sources, though you’d never know it from what bpas tell their clients. Read here for some stories of last minute help offered and accepted (of course, not by bpas who hate that kind of thing. Babies living? Can’t have that!)

Stuart Hart

27th March 2020 at 10:44 am

I always find it strange that the British Pregnancy Advisory Service is not really about advising pregnant women about pregnancy and its effects upon a woman. It doesn’t seem to spread the message of how to look after oneself and the child within.
You have to search the small print on the website for help on miscarriage or other difficulties whereas you clearly see “British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is the UK’s leading abortion care service” which tells you their priorities.
It is, as Francis said, a mass killing organisation.
The writer of the article is not writing from a position of disinterest but from one of being deeply involved in that process of killing. Her salary comes from the killing of children.
How can she sleep at night knowing that her company kills children?

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 12:54 pm

Words fail, Stuart. It’s beyond astonishing

L Strange

27th March 2020 at 9:46 am

44,000 abortions over three months. When women have numerous free contraceptive options, the right to insist on condom use by the man, and ‘the morning-after’ pill, why so many abortions?

Francis Lonergan

27th March 2020 at 10:09 am

Not enough social distancing I guess.

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 1:00 pm

Is that in Britain! !?? England! !?? Europe! !?? The World! !??

Ok, so the last two aren’t true, but even 440 would be ritualized infanticide. 4400 …shouldn’t that be a national outrage? 44000 just doesn’t compute.

Francis Lonergan

27th March 2020 at 9:11 am

A small but insignificant victory against the mass killing movement. But a welcome one none the less.


27th March 2020 at 12:14 pm

There was recently an actress who (to rounds of applause ) on accepting an award said she had had an abortion in order to take the part. Which presumably means that any children she has , she had as a result of nothing special work wise turning up for her that year.

Asif Qadir

29th March 2020 at 1:03 pm

Have you seen the likes of Michelle Wolfe glorying in her abortions? Shouldn’t be too difficult to find that vid.

Don’t be shy. ..which actress are you referring to?

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