Coronavirus: Angry MPs demand to know why home abortions switch was 'mysteriously' withdrawn
Forcing women to travel to arrange terminations during lockdown branded 'absurd' and dangerous
Angry MPs are demanding to know why changes to make it easier for women to have an abortion safely during the coronavirus crisis were “mysteriously” withdrawn.
The department of health announced “temporary approval” for pills to be prescribed remotely – rather than physically signed off by two separate medical professionals – to cut the risk of transmission.
But a U-turn then saw officials withdraw the advice, claiming it had been “published in error”, and no changes are now planned.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, came under fire in the Commons, when MPs pointed out the relaxation had been agreed with a swathe of medical groups.
Some are now warning that – during the so-called lockdown ordered by Boris Johnson – women will be forced to tell police officers they have left their homes in order to get abortion help.
Over the next 13 weeks, the expected infection peak, it is expected that 44,000 women across England and Wales will need access to an early medical abortion.
Stella Creasy, a Labour MP, said: “It’s absurd to expect women to be able to travel during lockdown for a vital healthcare procedure that could be done at home.
“That risks thousands of women being forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy because they cannot access medical services.”
In the Commons, fellow Labour MP Wes Streeting urged Mr Hancock to explain why the guidance was “removed from the government website later in the day”.
“Why is the government not listening to the royal colleges and why is the government making it more difficult for women to get access to an essential procedure during this time of crisis?” he asked.
But the health secretary told MPs: “We have no proposals to change any abortion rules as part of the Covid-19 response.”
Ms Creasy said Mr Hancock had to explain why Mr Hancock was claiming he “never intended any changes”, adding: “That’s clearly not true.”
“The department of health has done a U-turn and that advice has mysteriously disappeared,” she added.
Opposition to abortion remains strong on the Conservative benches. Around 70 voted against lifting the ban in Northern Ireland, last July, and dozens more abstained.
Some 13 different organisations – including the Royal College of Obstetricians, the Royal College of Midwives and the British Advisory Pregnancy Service – had negotiated with Mr Hancock on the liberalisation of the law.
Their letter had warned: “In the current circumstances with Covid-19 meaning doctors are self-isolating or off sick and the NHS under immense pressure, it wastes valuable time, puts everyone at greater risk of spreading or contracting coronavirus and risks our ability to provide abortion care at all.”
The need for two signatures to obtain an abortion means women can be asked to come to a clinic more than once, or to get a signature from their GP first.
Alternatively, doctors may have to physically find another doctor to provide the second authorisation.
The department of health and social care has been asked if the U-turn followed any political pressure.