UK, Ireland Respond to COVID-19 by Allowing Drug-Induced Abortions at Home—Warren Wants Same in USA

By Patrick Goodenough | April 15, 2020 | 4:05am EDT
(Staff Photo by Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)
(Staff Photo by Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

( – The coronavirus pandemic has prompted the British and Irish governments to loosen regulations around the use of chemical abortion drugs, and now Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and two Democratic colleagues want the Food and Drug Administration to do the same in the United States.

In Britain and Ireland, women wanting to end their pregnancies can now forego visits to a doctor or abortion clinic but have a consultation over the phone before the mifepristone and misoprostol pills are mailed to them.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) – the “leading provider of abortion services in the U.K.” – and Marie Stopes U.K. are among those offering the “telemedicine” service.

“We’re really proud to be able to offer this to our clients, to help them access abortion care at a time of great uncertainty,” tweeted BPAS.

Mifepristone, a synthetic steroid also known as RU-486, is taken orally, followed 24-48 hours later by misoprostol, taken orally or vaginally. Together, the drugs are reported to be more than 98 percent effective in destroying an unborn child up to two months after conception.

British authorities have given the go-ahead for home use up until 10 weeks’ gestation.

“Abortion care is an essential part of health care for women: services must be maintained even where non-urgent or elective services are suspended,” the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in recent guidance on “abortion care” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Abortion is time-sensitive, and attention should be paid to providing care as early as possible given gestational limits,” it said.

Warren, joined by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), made a similar point in a letter Tuesday to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn.

“People who need an abortion cannot delay care and should not needlessly risk coronavirus exposure,” they wrote. “"Given the years of scientific evidence indicating that medication abortion is a safe and effective treatment, we ask that FDA take immediate steps to temporarily exercise enforcement discretion on in-person dispensing requirements, so that people can more easily access abortion care without putting themselves or their health care providers at risk of infection from COVID-19.”

The trio, all members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, called on the FDA to exercise “flexibility” under the circumstances, “rather than letting any ideological objection to abortion care prevent health care providers from offering the safest care options to their patients.”

Their letter comes after 21 attorneys general, all Democrats, wrote to Hahn and HHS Secretary Alex Azar, asking them “to allow certified prescribers to use telehealth for Mifepristone.”

‘It seems that nothing must get in the way of women accessing abortion’

In Britain and Ireland, prolifers are dismayed by the development.

“It seems that nothing must get in the way of women accessing abortion,” said Antonia Tully, campaigns director for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC). “Apart from the dangers involved, putting abortion drugs in the post, in the same way that so many other household items are delivered to people, sends a message to women that abortion is a trivial matter.”

Tully voiced concern about phone consultations missing signs of medical complications, or of coercive situations in the home.

“We are seeing an increase in domestic abuse under the coronavirus lockdown,” she said. “My fear is that many women will be pressured into phoning for an abortion by abusive partners. We know that domestic violence is a huge indicator for abortion.”

In Ireland, Pro Life Campaign spokesperson Eilís Mulroy called the government’s new guidelines “reckless.”

“Abortion is never safe for the baby as it directly ends his or her life, but now we have a situation where women’s lives are also being put at risk,” she said. “How can the doctor assess the gestational stage of the pregnancy over a video call or identify an ectopic pregnancy or some other underlying medical condition the woman may have?”

Mulroy also questioned the government’s priorities during the pandemic.

“At a time when our country should be working as one to protect and defend every human life at every stage of development, we have government ministers wasting precious time in order to facilitate the ending of human life through abortion.”

In 2005 the World Health Organization added mifepristone and misoprostol to its list of “essential medicines,” after lobbying by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and others.

A recent WHO document on healthcare during the coronavirus pandemic states, “Women’s choices and rights to sexual and reproductive health care should be respected irrespective of COVID-19 status, including access to contraception and safe abortion to the full extent of the law.”

In the U.S., the FDA says mifepristone (Mifeprex) “may only be dispensed in clinics, medical offices, and hospitals by or under the supervision of a certified healthcare provider.”

It also cautions Americans not to buy the drug online.

“You should not buy Mifeprex over the Internet because you will bypass important safeguards designed to protect your health. Mifeprex has special safety restrictions on how it is distributed to the public.”

Last week the IPPF, Human Rights Watch, and dozens of other NGOs called on governments in Europe to “urgently guarantee safe and timely access to abortion care for women and girls in the region during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Most governments in the region have not implemented measures to ensure safe and timely access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, supplies or information during the pandemic, including for at-home management of medical abortion.”

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