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Abortion after the Coronavirus Act 2020: Going back to the old ways?

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Sifat Kaur Alag

Section Editor for Politics


With the easement of restrictions due to Covid-19 the abandonment of the Coronavirus Act 2020[1] seems to be fast approaching. The Coronavirus Act was adopted in March 2020 at a time when cases related to the virus were increasing rapidly. The Act granted the UK Government emergency powers to manage the spread of the virus. This included discretionary powers to limit/ restrict public gatherings, increase or relax regulations in a variety of sectors to limit the transmission of the disease and (along with other considerations) implement systems to ease the burden on the public health sector.



In March 2020 the lockdown provisions also became prevalent across the country due to which the Secretary of State for Health issued an approval easing the regulations on abortion in England [2] (Followed by Wales[3] and Scotland[4]). Prior the easement pregnant women were permitted medical abortion through a procedure that consists consuming two pills twenty four to forty eight hours apart. After the approval from two doctors, the first dose known as Mifipristone was administered by the pregnant person in the clinic where the pill was prescribed. After the 2018 approval of class of places[5] women were allowed to administer the second dose in the comfort of their home if the pregnancy hadn’t crossed the nine week and six days mark. This notice was passed due to the complications that often arose after consuming the second dose including but not limited to bleeding and extreme discomfort on public transport on the way back home.


The updated provisions during the pandemic allow women to consume both pills at home after video consultation from doctors. The pills are posted to the pregnant persons home or can be collected from the clinic in some cases. The new provisions however, come with a sunset clause in England and Wales, expiring along with the Coronavirus Act 2020 or at the end of a two year period whichever is sooner.


The new provisions are considered a step in the right direction by many as it makes early medical abortion within the ten-week period easier to access and carry out. Forming the illusion that women are able to take matters into their own hands when it comes to abortion. However, one must not forget to consider the critical obstacles created by the Abortion Act 1967. The act itself was created at a time where surgical abortion was the go-to procedure and medical abortion was not established. With early medical abortion becoming the dominant procedure for abortion the Abortion Act was updated by passing notice on the approval of class of places that permitted the administration of the second dose at home. However, this updated the Act a bit in 2018 to coincide better with early medical abortion, however it creates limitations in the interpretation of a home. As per the notice a home is where the pregnant person resides normally, not giving any consideration to whether the ‘normal’ home is a safe space to carry out the abortion.[6] Other limitations include the gestational limit of carrying out an early medical procedure within 10 weeks and requiring approval from two doctors even at a time when health care providers are already overburdened with the ongoing pandemic.


Although the approval to administer both pills at home was a step in the right direction this could all return back to what it was before the Coronavirus Act 2020 unless the Secretary for Health declares otherwise. This would once agin curb accessibility immensely. People living in remote areas without abortion clinics nearby would have to take leave from work and set aside caring responsibilities which may not be feasible in these difficult times.

Thus, the expiration of the Approval of places[7] would be a major set back for female health care and general bodily autonomy.


 

[1] Coronavirus Act 2020

[2] 'The Abortion Act 1967 - Approval Of A Class Of Places' (Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk, 2020) <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/876740/30032020_The_Abortion_Act_1967_-_Approval_of_a_Class_of_Places.pdf> accessed 6 April 2021.

[3] 'Temporary Approval Of Home Use For Both Stages Of Early Medical Abortion | GOV.WALES' (GOV.WALES, 2020) <https://gov.wales/temporary-approval-home-use-both-stages-early-medical-abortion> accessed 6 April 2021.

[4] 'Abortion – Covid-19 – Approval For Mifepristone To Be Taken At Home And Other Contingency Measures' (Sehd.scot.nhs.uk, 2020) <https://www.sehd.scot.nhs.uk/cmo/CMO(2020)09.pdf> accessed 6 April 2021.

[5] 'The Abortion Act 1967 - Approval Of A Class Of Places' (Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk, 2018) <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/768059/Approval_of_home_use_for_the_second_stage_of_early_medical_abortion.pdf> accessed 6 April 2021.

[6] Regina v A [2010] EWCA Crim 1949.

[7] 'The Abortion Act 1967 - Approval Of A Class Of Places' (Assets.publishing.service.gov.uk, 2020) <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/876740/30032020_The_Abortion_Act_1967_-_Approval_of_a_Class_of_Places.pdf> accessed 6 April 2021.

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