Abortion rules relaxed during pandemic could be made permanent, Home Office minister

An emergency relaxation of abortion rules to allow women to take pills at home during the coronavirus pandemic could be made permanent, according to the Government.

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins (pictured) said a public consultation on the issue would take place in response to calls for reform to help domestic abuse victims.

In March, the Department of Health and Social Care – following a U-turn – said women needing an abortion up to 10 weeks can use abortion pills at home after a consultation with a medical practitioner over the phone or via the internet.

The measure was put in place for two years.

Labour’s Dame Diana Johnson tabled an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill to provide women in abusive relationships with the ability to access “safe, legal” abortion care without having to attend a clinic.

She said if a doctor determined a woman is in an abusive relationship and unable to attend a clinic, she can obtain the care required.

Dame Diana said “illegal abortion” via people getting tablets off the internet has “all but disappeared” thanks to the measures introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Atkins said a range of views have been expressed on the amendment but there are “difficulties” with Dame Diana’s proposal.

She added: “The Government considers the right way forward is to undertake a public consultation on whether to make permanent the current Covid-19 measure allowing for home use of early medical abortion pills up to 10 weeks gestation for all eligible women.”

Conservative former minister Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, welcomed the move and said it was “important” to have the opportunity to see how the emergency regulations have worked during the pandemic.

Fellow Tory former minister Maria Miller agreed that the “rushed nature” of the amendment has resulted in “a clause which is open to a great deal of misinterpretation”.

She told MPs: “Indeed, I couldn’t possibly support it if she (Ms Johnson) were to bring it to a vote, because without actually (Tory MP Fiona Bruce’s) amendments, it would run the very serious risk of exposing some of the most vulnerable members of our society, people who have been victims of domestic abuse, to do something which would be, to all intents and purposes, an unregulated abortion service – which I know is not her intention.”

Meanwhile the DUP’s Jim Shannon (Strangford) called Dame Diana’s proposal “opportunistic and simply wrong”.

His DUP colleague Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) added: “I am grateful that in the contributions so far I don’t think the House will be minded to support new clause 28 today and I will be very clear in my position that I can see no circumstances in which I can support new clause 28 at all.”

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