At some point in their lives, before the age of 45, one in three women will have an abortion. Just like a pregnancy, the need to terminate one is a fact of life. More than this, being able to access safe, free and legal abortion services should you need to is acknowledged to be a basic human right for women and pregnant people.
This is no different during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, being able to easily access abortion during a public health crisis like this – when people are being asked to stay at home in order to keep themselves and others safe – is more important than ever.
So it’s alarming that the government is currently refusing to follow advice from scientific and professional bodies which are calling for the remote prescribing of early medical abortion so that women can take abortion pills in their own homes to protect their health and reduce the pressure on our already buckling services, should the anticipated upsurge in unwanted pregnancies occur during this crisis.
More than this, something bizarre happened earlier in the week. The government somehow managed to publish legislation which said that abortion pills would be available for women to take at home before mysteriously declaring that it had been published in error and going back on the announcement. The health secretary, Matt Hancock has since said that “there are no changes to abortion law“. It is still unclear how a change to abortion law was ever published and then reversed.
Multiple women have contacted the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) to raise their concerns about this situation. BPAS shared some of their comments with Refinery29:
I have contacted all the BPAS clinics within my area which I could only access by bus as I have no other form of travel. Reading is the main one but is constantly closed/fully booked due to only two nurses working there and the coronavirus. I’m nervous on time. I don’t want to wait ’til it’s too late or have to have a medical abortion. I feel with all this craziness in the world right now everywhere is just on pause but I don’t have time for that and online seems like the only option for me.
I am unable to access an abortion directly through the NHS as I am currently in an abusive relationship and I am unable to leave my home alone without my husband present. I understand it’s a difficult situation. I have no access to money or the outside world unless he is present. I am able to access our mail every day as he is at work when it arrives. Please can you help me? I have no other options.
The reason I am unable to go out to the clinic or doctors is because I come from a strict Muslim family and as I am unmarried this pregnancy is not allowed. My parents would disown me and kick me out if they were to find out or they may even harm me, and I have so much ahead of me I cannot afford to have a child right now at such a young age with no financial help as the person whom I conceived the child with is no longer in my life. I beg you to please help me, this is my only option. I’ve taken a test which had come out positive and I know the dates of my last period and the date of conception. This way of abortion is the only route I have as I am not allowed out due to the coronavirus. Please help me.
I can’t access my clinic due to being in isolation as two of my three children have a cough. The government guidelines are to self-isolate for 14 days! During that time I will be nearly 10 weeks pregnant before I can get to a clinic, which might result in myself needing to stay in hospital for a few hours to do the abortion as I will be past the limit for an early medical abortion. It’s impossible, as my mother is gravely ill, my father is her sole carer. I have nobody to look after my children if I was to stay in hospital! I don’t want my parents knowing anything as they are under enough stress as it is. I just want to get the abortion over with so I can be more present for my children. I’m so tired and have terrible morning sickness, it’s harder each day.
Along with BPAS, Marie Stopes UK, Alliance for Choice and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Refinery29 has been calling for the full decriminalisation of abortion, which would allow women to take abortion pills at home, through our I’m A Criminal campaign.
As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, it’s clear that this change is needed more than ever.
The prime minister has told us all to avoid unnecessary travel but the government’s decision not to make abortion more accessible seems to contradict that.
In the next 13 weeks as the pandemic reaches its peak, BPAS estimates that at least 44,000 women will have to leave their homes needlessly to access care, with clinic closures forcing them to travel across the country and to mix in cramped NHS waiting rooms where distancing is impossible.
Women with severe health issues who have been told to self-isolate could be forced to choose between risking their health by leaving their house and being compelled to continue an unwanted pregnancy which also threatens their health. That’s a choice no woman should ever have to make.
A spokesperson for BPAS told Refinery29:
“The temporary guidance issued on Monday hailed an outbreak of common sense at the Department of Health – which was woefully short-lived. We are frankly at a loss to understand how a wholly sensible, evidence-based policy can be issued by a government department, only to be dismissed as a “publishing error” hours later. For the staff in our clinics it’s been a huge disappointment. With a quarter of our clinics closed due to Covid-19 they are working overtime to provide care to women. One counsellor told me today, “everyone is very much feeling the strain on the ground. We’re trying to keep up the morale.” It’s incredibly frustrating that just as Boris Johnson was announcing the lockdown, Matt Hancock made a U-turn which will require 44,000 women to make unnecessary journeys in the coming months.”
“We can’t continue to have abortion guidelines dictated by the whim of politicians. Now, more than ever, we need decriminalisation so that the service can be guided by clinical evidence – not politics.”
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?