Reviewed July 2020
Covid-19 may have changed abortion care access for the better. Help us keep it that way
In the space of just a few months, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we go about our lives dramatically — perhaps irreparably. Healthcare settings are known to be particularly risky locations for contracting and spreading Covid-19, and with lockdowns all over the globe, we have had to rapidly change the way that we deliver and seek healthcare. Abortion services are no different.
Before the UK had even gone into lockdown, staff shortages due to sickness and self-isolation, and the requisitioning of operating theatres for Covid-19 patients were causing abortion services to buckle to the point of near collapse. Surgical abortion lists were being cancelled, leaving women who could not access a safe early medical abortion without a backup plan.
Women with severe health issues were being forced to choose between risking their health by leaving their house to access abortion services and being compelled to continue a pregnancy that threatened their wellbeing, or perhaps even their life. We know that vulnerable women were already circumventing the regulated healthcare system to seek support from online abortion providers — not only is this is against the law, but prevents them from seeking support from regulated services, like those provided by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), where I work as a researcher. We worried that the pandemic would push more women to seek underground abortions.
People who may have found it difficult to get to a clinic, such as those with disabilities, women with childcare responsibilities, or clients who value a more private experience, can now safely access an abortion from their own home
After intense pressure from women’s health experts and the public health community, plus an embarrassing U-turn by the government, the Department of Health and Social Care made temporary changes to legislation to allow eligible women in the UK to access abortion care without the need to leave their home.
BPAS set up a world-leading telemedical abortion service in just 10 days after the government granted this approval. A telemedical abortion is available up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. It typically involves a consultation and medical assessment over the phone after which you would receive the ‘abortion pills’ (mifepristone and misoprostol) and pain relief in the post. We can even send you contraception. Once you’ve received your medication, BPAS’ aftercare team are on hand to guide you through the process should you need us.
Our new service has made safe abortion more accessible and private than ever. People who may have found it difficult to get to a clinic, such as those with disabilities, women with childcare responsibilities, or clients who value a more private experience, can now safely access an abortion from their own home. To date, we have provided over 17,000 early medical abortions delivered directly to the safety and security of people’s homes.
“The only downside is that it’s taken a pandemic to convince the authorities to grant the necessary permissions to achieve this”
Canada, Australia, and some parts of the USA have been safely providing telemedical abortion care for years, but nowhere has seen such innovative service changes made as rapidly as we’ve managed to.
“It’s been brilliant to finally be able to deliver the service women need directly to them in their own homes,” said Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at BPAS. “The only downside is that it’s taken a pandemic to convince the authorities to grant the necessary permissions to achieve this.”
This is a service we have always wanted for our clients. We hope to take it with us into our brave new world, and not slip back into the status quo of unnecessary clinic visits and long waiting times. A newly announced government consultation promises to review the use of abortion medication in women’s homes, and we hope the recent changes we have seen will be made permanent.
The situation in the US looks far bleaker. Decision makers have positioned abortion services as “non-essential”, paving the way for new swathes of restrictions and clinic closures. This has left some States without a functioning service. However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) and many grassroots organisations such as SisterSong are working tirelessly to seek the removal of restrictions on access to abortion care during the pandemic. On July the 13th, a judge suspended an FDA rule requiring in-clinic visits to obtain abortion medication, opening up the potential for telemedical abortion services.
We need your help: we want to know how the pandemic has impacted your pregnancy choices. This essential research will help us to ensure our services remain patient-centred
We know that people seeking an abortion in the UK and the USA will have experienced difficulties in accessing care during the pandemic. We also know that the uncertainty brought by the pandemic may be impacting people’s decisions around becoming a parent.
Our team at BPAS have teamed up with researchers from the University of Colorado in Illinois’ College of Nursing to investigate how we can ensure that abortion services remain as accessible as possible. To do this, we need your help: we want to know how the pandemic has impacted your pregnancy choices. If you live in the UK or the USA and have had an abortion during the pandemic or have considered having an abortion (even briefly!), please complete our survey below.
This essential research will help us to ensure our services remain patient-centred and give us the evidence we need to defend the incredible progress that has recently been made in abortion care.
Featured image is an illustration of a woman sitting on her bed, looking at her phone and smiling. She has just used a telemedical abortion service. On the left-hand side of the image, a hand is holding an envelope, containing her medication
Page last updated July 2020