Telemedicine refers to healthcare appointments that happen over the telephone or internet rather than face-to-face.
Telemedical abortion care, or pills by post, allows women to have a telephone or video consultation with a qualified nurse or midwife and – where eligible – abortion medication is posted out so that a woman can pass her pregnancy at home.
Pills by post has transformed the accessibility of abortion care for women up and down the country. Women no longer have to travel long distances to clinics or hospitals, don’t have to take time off work or find childcare, and don’t have to delay appointments until they can find transport. It’s meant women can access high quality healthcare, that fits in with their lives.
Telemedical abortion care has been of significant benefit to women in the most challenging of circumstances who may struggle to access in-clinic care. Prior to the introduction of at-home early medical abortion, women experiencing domestic violence, those caring for disabled children, and those unable to safely leave their homes to attend for appointments risked criminalisation – and up to life imprisonment – by using abortion medication purchased online to end pregnancies they could not continue.
Even prior to the pandemic, NICE and the RCOG recommended that the NHS should provide telemedical abortion care for women who preferred this, as they recognised how it helps vulnerable patients. Multiple peer-review studies have found that telemedicine is safe, effective, and preferred by a majority of women.
Since telemedicine was introduced, the numbers turning to unlawful means to end a pregnancy has drastically reduced. Revoking telemedicine would have placed the safety of vulnerable women and girls at risk, for entirely political purposes.
BPAS led the campaign to protect women’s ability to continue to access safe, legal, at-home abortion care via telemedicine.
In March 2020 the government changed the rules on abortion in light of of the pandemic. The new rules meant that women could take both medications for an early medical abortion (an abortion that happens within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy) at home for the first time ever.
The pills by post service was proven to be safe, accessible and effective. Despite this, the government sought to revoke this service in March 2022.
But we fought back.
BPAS united with women’s rights groups, medical experts, and Baroness Liz Sugg on an amendment to the Health Care Bill to protect access to at-home early medical abortion. This amendment was passed by MPs in the House of Commons on the 30th March 2022 by a majority of 212 to 188 MPs.
This is the biggest progressive change to the 1967 Abortion Act since it passed, and will benefit thousands of women each year.
Under the 1967 Abortion Act, abortion treatment in the UK is only legal if it’s provided in NHS hospitals or premises licensed by the Minister for Health. This meant that all women had to attend a licensed abortion clinic to take the first pill of an early medical abortion, otherwise the abortion would technically not be legal.
In spring 2020, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the English, Welsh and Scottish Governments introduced a temporary change in the rules to allow women and girls to take all the medication for an Early Medical Abortion in their own homes – following a telephone or e-consultation with a clinician. It has meant that women no longer need to travel to clinics unnecessarily and can pass their pregnancy in space that is safe and comfortable for them, rather than on the way back from a clinic.
But in March 2022, the government announced that they intended to revoke permission for this service and legally compel all women to attend an in-person appointment, regardless of their circumstances, for no clinical reason.
BPAS united with Baroness Liz Sugg on an amendment to the Health Care Bill to protect access to at-home early medical abortion. This amendment was passed by MPs in the House of Commons on the 30th March 2022 by a majority of 212 to 188 MPs.
We did it.