Campaigners and charity officials were left ‘staggered’ and ‘confused’ by the sudden reversal, with abortion providers such as Marie Stopes ‘seeking urgent clarification’ from the Department of Health. But in the meantime, what can you do if you need an abortion during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Living through the Coronavirus pandemic if you fall into one of the high-risk categories, such as the over 70s and those who are pregnant, is a particularly terrifying and unpredictable thing. But what about women who fall pregnant and want to access abortion services during this pandemic?
Navigating your next steps if you decide to have an abortion is complicated and emotionally demanding at the best of times, let alone during a global health crisis when we’re being told to practice social distancing. On Monday, the government announced plans to allow at-home early medical abortions – that is, the termination of pregnancies within the first trimester – during the Coronavirus outbreak, where women can take two pills at home, following a phone consultation, instead of going to a clinic. This is a service already offered in countries like Australia and the US. But just hours later, the government u-turned on the new emergency rules, saying they had been ‘published in error’.
“Abortion providers are still providing a service in the same way that we always have, and we’re working hard to make sure our services are as undisrupted as possible,” says Rachael Clarke of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). “Women should get in touch with whoever provides abortion services in their local area – more than 70% of abortions are provided by BPAS, Marie Stopes or NUPAS, and they can tell you what is available locally.”
According to advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, much of the process can still be done remotely. Initial consultations – as well as any follow-up counselling – can be done over the phone to limit physical contact. Then, following the government u-turn, you will need to attend the clinic in person to take the first pill. “You shouldn’t need to be at the clinic long, and after that, you will be given the second pill to take home with you,” says Rachael.
As with all health services, abortion providers are increasingly under pressure amid the current crisis. A quarter of BPAS clinics were closed on Tuesday 24th March due to staff sickness and self-isolation, “but we’re doing everything we can to make sure our services continue as seamlessly as possible,” assures Rachael. “The best advice is to get in touch with your local abortion provider as soon as possible, as waiting times will likely be longer at the moment. If you have symptoms of Coronavirus or are self-isolating, they’ll be able to tell you when you can be booked in for an appointment.”
Jana Abelovska, lead pharmacist and medical advisor at Click Pharmacy, also has a word of reassurance for those worried about leaving their homes: “Abortion care providers will have strict infection control measures in place for those women attending the clinic in-person, which will certainly minimise the risk of infection.”
Thanks to organisations such as BPAS continuing to put pressure on the Department of Health, there is hope that the government will allow women to access at-home early medical abortions without having to leave the house. Until then, these are the safest guidelines to follow.