MPs vote to give women continued access to at-home abortion services in England
Women in England will have continued access to early abortion care at home after MPs supported a law change.
The Government changed the regulations during the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020 in order to allow women to have medical abortions at home following a phone or video consultation.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid later announced the temporary measure would end with the return to pre-Covid arrangements in August.
After peers voted to amend the Health and Care Bill to retain the at-home service, the Government then put forward its own amendment to allow the Commons a vote on the matter.
MPs supported retaining the service by 215 votes to 188, majority 27 following a free vote on Wednesday.
Analysis of the division list showed Conservative MPs Rehman Chishti, Felicity Buchan and Suzanne Webb registered votes in both the aye and no lobby, which is considered as a formal abstention.
Conservative former prime minister Theresa May, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, justice minister Victoria Atkins and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps were among those to support the proposal, while Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Cabinet Office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg and Treasury minister Simon Clarke voted against.
The Commons heard since the change in the rules, 150,000 women have had abortions at home before they are 10 weeks pregnant, and face-to-face services will remain an option.
Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), said in a statement: “We are absolutely delighted that MPs followed the evidence and above all listened to women when they voted for the continuation of this service.
“Early abortion at home is safe, effective and an important option for women.
“We look forward to being able to provide this service into the future and are incredibly grateful to all the parliamentarians who championed it.”
During the debate, Labour MP Jess Phillips (pictured) (Birmingham Yardley) spoke about her own experience of having an abortion and how telemedicine would improve the service for others – including by allowing women to take the medicine at an earlier point than waiting for an appointment.
She said: “One thing I would say about when I had an abortion is that the worst process of having an abortion is the waiting.
“I had made the decision of what I was going to do with my body. I had made it the second I saw that I was pregnant on a pregnancy test, because I am an adult woman, completely capable of handling my own body and knowing my own mind. That is how we should treat every woman in this country.”
Conservative MP Laura Trott (Sevenoaks) added retaining the service was “a matter for human dignity, for women’s dignity”.
She told MPs about a “close family member who had an abortion”, explaining: “There is a reason that the first pill is known as abortion on the bus. You go to get the pill, and effects can happen very, very quickly.
“She was driving home, she had to pull over at Sainsbury’s where she vomited in a toilet, she had severe diarrhoea, she was bleeding very very heavily. This was forced on her because of an artificial constraint that we put on how women can access abortion. It’s not right.”
Conservative former cabinet minister Maria Miller said telemedicine services will be regulated in the same way as face-to-face abortion care, adding: “The evidence again shows online abortion pill sales from unregulated providers have decreased since telemedicine was made legally available.”
Health minister Edward Argar said the Government had remained of the view that medical abortion should return to pre-Covid arrangements and “face-to-face services resumed given that that temporary change was based upon a specific set of emergency circumstances”.
Dr Caroline Johnson, Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, said: “I’d like to summarise my concern by saying as a woman, I’ve not had an abortion but I guess in the future I could become pregnant and not want to be, if I was to be having an abortion, I’d rather have the inconvenience of having to go to a clinic than the worry of knowing some women are having abortions without going to those clinics.
“Essentially, for me, this is an issue of do we want to make things more convenient for the majority of women or do we want to protect those women who are most vulnerable, the most marginalised and most at risk?”
DUP MP Jim Shannon (Strangford) said “both lives matter”, adding: “I will vote against this permanent extension of this ill-advised scheme today and would urge MPs on both sides of the chamber to join me in doing so.
“It is a step backwards rather than forwards in providing adequate support and care for a woman and further normalises the practice of abortion as a phone call away rather than a counselled decision under medical care which it deserves.”
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