Nathan Hodson, Elizabeth Chloe Romanis and Jordan Parsons
Debate continues this week over whether abortion regulations in Great Britain should be adapted to ensure access for women during the Covid-19 crisis and resulting widespread self-isolation. We have reviewed an email circulated by anti-abortion activists immediately after laws were briefly relaxed (and the changes were revoked hours later). The letter sent to activists is posted in full below for your interest. It asks people to click on a link to send an email to their MP (also below).
The message to supporters does not mention women’s safety once but uses culture war rhetoric to get people to click the email to MPs. Then the email to MPs completely pivots to address women’s safety. Clearly the reason constituents are sending the email is not women’s safety. But let us consider the claims made in more detail.
Assertion #1: The two-doctor check protects women
At present, the Abortion Act 1967 requires that two doctors agree that a woman meets the criteria for lawful abortion under the Act.
“The two doctor requirement is designed to protect women. Removing this legal requirement and allowing midwives and nurses to sign off on abortions could put more women at risk of complications after an abortion.”
There is no evidence that the two-doctor check protects women.
Evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee from ProLife Alliance asserted that it was to protect women’s “best interests”, but no evidence of women being protected was given.
Further, it is widely known that doctors treat the two-doctor requirement as a formality, leading the Christian Medical Fellowship to describe it as a “sham”. It is poor faith to claim that women are being protected by something which is not even being enacted.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service have explained that in the current crisis the two-doctor requirement could lead to delays in abortion care. It is harder to arrange two signatures during staff shortages and clinic closures, which means that women cannot access treatment that a medication professional has certified that they need. In no other area of medical practice is a second medical opinion necessary in order to enable a doctor to do their job and provide routine medical .
Assertion #2: Home abortions would demand more medical time than the alternative
“These would require medical attention, thus pulling resources away from frontline NHS services.”
A study of 8,765 women who received telemedical home abortion care found a complication rate of just 0.18%, that rate is lower than 1 in 500. None of these complications required surgery (and of course no women died). This rate was no different than amongst medical abortions carried out at a medical facility. Home abortions would not require more medical attention.
On the other hand, if women become pregnant, they certainly will use NHS services in pre-natal care. This is good when it supports women to remain healthy during a pregnancy they want to continue. But let us not pretend that preventing abortion reduces demand for NHS care.
Assertion #3: The Secretary of State improperly went around parliament
The Abortion Act 1967 gives the Secretary of State the power to declare authorised places where tablets can be used. This power was afforded to the Secretary of State by Parliament directly, and the power is there to enable discretion is exercised in the provision of medical services. As such, there is no requirement for parliamentary involvement in this decision. This power was exercised by the Secretary of State in 2018 to allow misoprostol (the second of two abortion tablets) to be taken at home. Under the current rapidly changing circumstances it was reasonable for the Secretary of State to use his executive power to issue the authorisation.
There was nothing dubious, dodgy, or underhand about the exercise of this power. More concerning, however, is the reversal of the decision to relax regulations, which neither the Department of Health and Social Care nor the Secretary of State himself has explained.
Assertion #4: Women’s health is a priority for people sending this letter
The email being shared between activists does not mention women’s health once. It expresses opposition to “the abortion lobby” repeatedly and conjures up a ghoulish image of DIY abortion, whatever that means. It is nothing more than a culture war message.
Yet the letter which activists are encouraged to send to their MP makes several questionable references to women’s health. But they are unfounded as shown above.
The letter organisers say, “It only takes 30-seconds”. This gives you a sense of who is sending these emails to their MPs. Not people who are seriously invested in women’s wellbeing, but people who are angry at a faceless ‘abortion lobby’ and willing to spend 30-seconds of self-isolation auto-messaging their MP. It is difficult to explain the mismatch between the two messages any other way.
There is substantial evidence, on the other hand, to suggest that it is much safer for women to access abortion care remotely at this time.
This post is part of an ongoing series on sexual and reproductive health and rights during the Covid-19 crisis. Read more here: COVID-19 and Abortion Care Update: Department of Health and Social Care “Error” and here: International Surrogacy During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Appendix: The letter sent to supporters
Appendix: The letter sent to MPs
“I am writing to you as a local constituent to ask that you today (Tuesday) contact the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and make it clear that the Government should not let the abortion lobby hijack the Coronavirus Bill, to make substantial changes to abortion legislation that are divisive and could put women’s safety and lives at risk.
The abortion lobby are putting pressure on the Government to amend the Coronavirus Bill to make two substantial changes to abortion legislation. They are calling for the Government to 1) reduce the number of doctors who sign off on a termination from two to one, and 2) allow midwives and nurses to also sign off on terminations.
The two doctor requirement is designed to protect women. Removing this legal requirement and allowing midwives and nurses to sign off on abortions could put more women at risk of complications after an abortion. These would require medical attention, thus pulling resources away from frontline NHS services.
These two substantial changes have been long-term lobbying goals for the abortion industry and it appears they are attempting to exploit the Coronavirus crisis to force the Government to make these changes.
It is vitally important at this time of national crisis, this Parliament prioritises the safety of women rather than pursuing the pro-abortion ideological policy without any real parliamentary scrutiny about the consequences.
As a constiuent I am asking that you please make representations today to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and make it clear that the Government should not let the abortion lobby hijack the Coronavirus Bill, to make substantial changes to abortion legislation that are divisive and could put women’s safety and lives at risk.”