A couple of weeks ago the UK government quietly announced that they were ending abortion “telemedicine”: that is, the pandemic-era policy of shipping of abortion pills to women for at-home use. A lot of people, me included, thought that the policy would continue after the pandemic, but it seems as seems like abortion telemedicine caused a wide variety of unforseen problems, such that even the almost universally pro-choice British medical establishment turned against it.
Right to Life UK have a good piece on the reversal which links to many of the issues:
A number of significant problems have arisen since ‘DIY’ home abortions were introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the policy has left women and girls facing unplanned pregnancies to self-administer their own abortions at home without in-person medical supervision, reliable in-person safeguarding checks nor a routine in-person medical examination.
A study released in November 2021 suggested that more than 10,000 women had to receive hospital treatment following the use of medical abortion pills in England between April 2020 and September 2021.
Over 600 medical professionals have signed an open letter to the Scottish, Welsh and English Governments calling for an end to ‘at-home’ abortion due to concerns that it has led to a number of abortions occurring over the ten-week limit and that it fails to protect women and girls from being coerced into an abortion against their will.
Government data also suggests that complications from ‘home abortions’, including haemorrhage, uterine perforation and/or sepsis, following a ‘DIY’ home abortion are likely to have been vastly underreported.
The British public doesn’t seem to have enthusiastically embraced remote consultations for abortion either: polling isn’t clear how many people actually supported it, but large majorities had concerns about various aspects of the policy.
I wrote a guest post for Secular Pro-life a while back that predicted that the ever-increasing use of the abortion pill would change the abortion debate in fundamental ways.
Use of chemical abortions is increasing rapidly. So-called ‘medical’ abortions were almost one-third of the total in the US in 2016 – a vast number considering the Food and Drug Administration only approved the use of the ‘abortion pill’ in 2000. In many other countries chemical abortions are over fifty per cent of the total. In Ireland, over 98% of abortions are from pills taken in the first trimester.
Telemedicine abortions are also on the rise – and COVID-19 has only hastened this process. With telemedicine, a woman seeking an abortion never physically meets a doctor for a consultation: it all happens online via video link or otherwise. Earlier in the year Ireland approved telemedicine abortions for the duration of the pandemic, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be completely abandoned after it’s over.
I still stand by a lot of the points I made in that post (check it out here: Four Ways that Chemical Abortion and Telemedicine Will Change the Abortion Debate). But I’m a bit less confident than I was that telemedicine is the future of abortion.
Meanwhile Ireland so far shows no sign of following Britain in ending remote consultation. There’s less than a month left to make submissions to the three-year review of Ireland’s post-repeal abortion legislation – for my money this is the kind of thing that actually has some chance of changing for the better as a result of it. You can make submissions to the public consultation part of the legislative review either by filling in an online form here or by emailing your completed submission as an attachment (PDF or Word doc) to Bioethics2Unit@health.gov.ie, with the subject line “Review of the operation of the Act”.
It’s hard to be bothered to write to these things, but I really do think this is one issue that we could perhaps make a difference on: especially if you or anyone you know is a medical professional.
Another thing that’s worth making a submission about is about better data on abortion. Another difference between our abortion regime and Britain’s is that we collect a fraction of the data that they do. They record things like socioeconomic status and, crucially, the reasons why abortions are obtained. Without this information it’s very hard to tell what’s driving abortion in Ireland or how best to attempt to reduce it. Everyone, pro-choice and pro-life, ought to be able to agree that good data about such an important issue is worth having.