The case for decriminalisation has been made by the current pandemic

By Kerry Abel, Chair of Abortion Rights

Abortion Rights has been calling for women to be able to take early medical abortion pills at home for some time. The vast majority – nine in ten abortions are carried out at 12 weeks or less.

We maintained that the law did not have to be challenged, but that the NHS could issue new guidelines allowing women to take the pills at home, as opposed to attending the clinic unnecessarily.

On 23rd March, the Department of Health (DoH) published measures to allow at-home abortions in England and Wales up to 10 weeks. This was rightly applauded as a sensible step to avoid having to travel unnecessarily for abortion care, but also to free up healthcare professionals who are dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The current pandemic, while highlighting gaping holes in the health services caused by austerity, is also exposing artificial restrictions put in place for women against the medical community’s recommendations.

It did not come without a few false starts – after only a few hours we heard rumours that the guidelines had been pulled from the DoH website and that publishing them was called a mistake.

Thankfully they have now been reinstated and Scotland also announced at-home abortions up to 12 weeks.

This is vital for vulnerable women or those living in rural areas and should pave the way for proper telemedicine to make it as accessible as possible.

The Royal College for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have also called for easier access to this essential healthcare, whilst the World Health Organisation (WHO) have already provided guidelines for self-managed abortion.

Abortion Rights will be monitoring the measures to ensure that there is not a postcode lottery for women during the Covid-19 crisis.

We turn our attention to Northern Ireland, where despite having a positive framework put in place at the end of last year for decriminalised abortion the recently reformed Northern Ireland Assembly has not yet allowed at-home abortions. We are hearing distressing stories of women having to travel to London and Liverpool during lockdown for their abortions in an environment where a quarter of abortion clinics are closed due to staff sickness and isolation measures.

The case for decriminalised abortion is clearly a healthcare issue. It is time for politicians to accept this and allow women safe, free, legal and local access to abortion without any unnecessary barriers.

This blog was originally published by Abortion Rights.