U.K. abortion pill program cuts corners
Abortion | “Pills by Post” fails to follow safety assessments for at-home abortions
by Leah Hickman
Posted 7/10/20, 06:54 pm
An undercover investigation in the United Kingdom found that women have received the abortion pill in the mail without confirming their identities or the gestational ages of their unborn babies. The lack of accountability for meeting those basic medical standards puts women at risk of life-threatening complications.
At the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock changed the rules for administering the abortion pill to allow women to get a prescription after only a phone consultation with no in-person visit to a provider’s office.
Volunteers from Christian Concern provided made-up names and false hospital registration information in their calls to Marie Stopes U.K. and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which send the abortion pills in the mail, a service they call “Pills by Post.” On Monday, Christian Concern announced the results of its investigation: Neither organization made any attempts to confirm the callers’ identities, nor did they check to make sure the patients were actually registered with the medical practice they listed.
Perhaps most dangerous for the women, Marie Stopes and BPAS did not verify how far along the women’s pregnancies were. Although the BPAS claims abortion pills are safe, its website still lists as possible complications a 2 percent chance of retaining some fetal tissue, a 2 in 1,000 chance of infection or hemorrhaging, and a 1 in 100,000 chance of death for the mother. Those risks are on top of the drugs’ common side effects, which include vomiting and diarrhea. And the chance of complications increases as the pregnancy gets farther along.
Although drug-induced abortions are only legal in the U.K. up to 10 weeks of gestation, one investigator ordered the drugs even though the caller said she had passed the cutoff.
The investigators weren’t the only ones to slip through the cracks. Under the loosened restrictions, a woman at 28 weeks of gestation obtained the pills and gave birth to a stillborn baby. Police announced in May they were investigating the case since the woman was 18 weeks past the legal limit for at-home abortions and four weeks past the legal limit for most surgical abortions.
BPAS is looking into eight other cases of women who ordered the pills past 10 weeks of gestation.
Kevin Duffy, a former director at Marie Stopes International who led the undercover investigation, said removing the requirement for in-person examinations before prescribing the pills has put women in danger: “Each of the scenarios revealed by this investigation would not have happened under the pre-lockdown process.”
Other opponents of the loosened restrictions said that the new rules could allow sex offenders to obtain the pills and force women to have abortions against their wills.
The U.K. government ruled last week that the “temporary” abortion pill measures could continue despite a legal challenge from Christian Concern. The government is also considering making the rule change permanent.
“With most clinics now open and lockdown restrictions eased, there is no reason for the policy to continue,” Christian Concern wrote in a blog post last week.
The organization will argue in a judicial hearing at the end of the month that Hancock should not have been able to legalize at-home abortions: “Only Parliament could change the law, which states that abortions may only take place in … hospitals and approved clinics.”
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