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Rape Crisis England & Wales urges MPs to support victims and survivors of gender-based violence and vote in favour of clause 184 in the Health and Care Bill on Wednesday 30th March.
This clause would prevent a serious rolling back of reproductive choice and rights by allowing early at-home abortion care to continue. It is our belief that removing this option from all women, regardless of medical need or personal circumstances, would be especially harmful for victims and survivors of gender-based violence.
Early at-home abortion care – also known as 'telemedical abortion care' – consists of taking two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol. Since March 2020, when England first went into lockdown, clinically eligible women have been able to take both abortion pills before the 10-week gestation mark in the comfort and privacy of their own home. Previously, the second pill could be taken at home, but the first pill had to be taken on medical premises. In the two years since then, more than 150,000 women have made use of telemedical abortion care after either receiving the pills at home following a clinical consultation or collecting them from a convenient location.
It is absolutely vital that women have access to the abortion method that is safest for their personal circumstances – something that could very well save their life.
Not only is pregnancy widely recognised as one of the most dangerous times for women with abusive partners, but forced pregnancy is also a coercive weapon used by some abusive men. Women at risk of honour-based abuse may also face physical and psychological violence if they continue with pregnancies.
For some of these women, telemedical abortion care will be the safest option. That's because attending a clinic in person would involve some women in abusive relationships having to risk their partner finding out where they've gone. And if legal and regulated at-home abortion service is removed for them, they might instead feel forced to turn to unregulated providers instead – or even to ending their pregnancies through other means.
This in turn would cut women off from specialist counselling and from the support networks – such as social workers, police and community groups – that regulated providers can help them to access.
It would also put a stop to the possibility of this counselling and these support networks being able to empower and assist women in leaving these abusive relationships. There are multiple instances where other women have been able to do just that after having contact with legal and regulated abortion providers.
With all this in mind, we strongly disagree with the inaccurate and dangerous view that offering at-home abortion care puts women at greater risk of reproductive coercion. Forced or coerced pregnancy is more common than forced or coerced abortion, and creating unnecessary barriers to abortion only serves to help abusers, not victims and survivors.
And medical professionals agree. The World Health Organisation, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, the British Medical Association and the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) all recommend that telemedical abortion care be available as an option to women.
Our urgent call to MPs also comes after the Welsh government recently made telemedical abortion care permanently available. Meanwhile, it remains available in Scotland. And so, we urge MPs to ensure the same for women across the UK and to prove that their support lies with victims and survivors – not their abusers.