U.K. Loosens Restrictions on Abortion Pills by Mail During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, women in the U.K. will have access to abortion at home, without traveling to a clinic.

The move will be made on a temporary basis—limited for two years or until the coronavirus crisis is over.

Prior to this temporary change, women were required to visit a clinic and take the first abortion pill, mifepristone, on-site. The second pill, misoprostol, is typically taken at home. 

Now, in the U.K., after a phone or video consultation with a doctor, patients may have both pills delivered to their homes.

Although only meant to last through the COVID-19 pandemic, this decision ensures that women will have access to abortion without risking their health—and the health of others—to access care. 

Already, almost one in four offices of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service closed due to COVID-19 concerns. Eliminating face-to-face interaction at doctor’s appointments will undoubtedly help slow the spread of the pandemic. 

Concerns immediately mounted as COVID-19 caused closures throughout the U.K. Not only were patients and medical workers put at risk by in-office visits; experts also warned that difficultly accessing a safe abortion can result in women dangerously attempting an abortion themselves.

The U.K.’s decision to permit at-home abortions are not radical; they simply follow the crucial move to telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Abortions are time-sensitive medical procedures. In 2018, more than 205,000 abortions took place in England and Wales.

Further, the pills are easy and safe to use at home.

Is Self-Managed Abortion Legal in the U.S.?

Similarly, across the pond, the number of self-managed abortions is on the rise in the United States.

Laws regarding the legality of performing at-home abortions pills differ state to state.

As Carrie Baker reported previously on self-managed abortion:

A U.S.-based research study on telemedicine abortion called TelAbortion allows clinicians participating in the study to provide medication abortion care by videoconference and mail, without an in-person visit to an abortion provider.

Run by Gynuity Health Projects, the study is currently running in 13 states: Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Georgia, New York, Maine, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland and Montana. 

U.K. Loosens Restrictions on Abortion Pills by Mail During the Coronavirus Pandemic
A package of pills sent to patients in a study on medical abortions. (CNN)

Baker continues:

Five states have explicit criminal prohibitions of self-managed abortions: Arizona, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Delaware and Nevada. New York repealed their criminal prohibition on self-managed abortion in 2019.

But it’s important to note: There have been no successful prosecutions of women who self-managed an abortion using pills in early pregnancy, believes Dr. Beverly Winikoff, President of Gynuity Health Project, which advocates for reproductive and maternal health. 

“Only a handful of states make it a crime to have a self-induced abortion,” Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women told Ms. “In most states, it’s not a crime to take actions that end one’s own pregnancy.”

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving.

During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media.

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Audrey Andrews is a Ph.D. student in anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. She is an archaeologist, runner and feminist. Audrey graduated from Columbia University.