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Early Medical Abortion: Extension of Temporary Arrangements

Volume 709: debated on Thursday 24 February 2022

Today I am announcing a six-month extension to the temporary arrangements for the provision of early medical abortion put in place during the covid pandemic. The Government will end the temporary approval put in place at the beginning of the pandemic that allows women to take both pills for early medical abortion up to 10 weeks gestation at home. The temporary approval will end at midnight on 29 August 2022. From this point, the pre-covid regulatory requirements for the provision of early medical abortion will be reinstated.

At the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Government put in place a temporary approval in England, enabling women to take both pills for early medical abortion up to 9 weeks and 6 days gestation in their own homes if they chose to do so. A telephone or e-consultation must have first taken place with a clinician. However, women did not need to physically attend a hospital or clinic. Prior to the pandemic, only the second pill for early medical abortion could be taken at home and women were required to attend a clinic to take the first pill.

This temporary measure was put in place at the start of a public health emergency, to address a specific and acute medical need, reducing the risk of transmission of covid-19 and ensuring continued access to abortion services. At the time, a decision was made to time limit the approval for two years or until the pandemic was over, whichever was earliest.

After careful consideration, the Government’s view is that the provision of early medical abortion should return to pre-covid arrangements. The wellbeing and safety of women requiring access to abortion services has been, and will continue to be, our first and foremost priority.

Thanks to the success and impact of the national vaccination and booster programme, we are in a very different position compared to the beginning of the pandemic. However, health services and the workforce have been under increased pressure in recert months. A short-term extension of the temporary approval will be made to enable a sure and reliable return to pre-pandemic arrangements and continued access to services.

The replacement temporary measure will end at midnight on 29 August 2022.

As with any healthcare service, this measure will be kept under review.

I am depositing a copy of the summary of responses to the Government’s consultation on this issue in the Libraries of both Houses.