Changes to the health care system that allow women to terminate pregnancies without visiting a hospital should be made permanent following the coronavirus pandemic, campaigners have insisted.
Engender, which campaigns for women’s rights, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), together with 25 women’s organisations, human rights bodies, and healthcare providers, have written to the Scottish Government’s new women’s health minister, Maree Todd, calling for telemedical abortion services to be retained.
The organisations insist changes to the system, brought in as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have “eliminated some of the unnecessary barriers to quality abortion care in Scotland”, and have “increased privacy and women’s personal comfort as well as reducing out of pocket expenses”.
A total of 13,815 abortions were carried out Scotland in 2020 – the second highest number on record.
And since the end of March last year, women having a medical abortion have been able to take both sets of pills at home.
Prior to this those who wished to end a pregnancy had to visit a hospital clinic to take the first set of drugs.
The Scottish Government has now carried out a consultation on early medical abortion services, with both Engender and the BPAS clear that the current arrangements should remain in place after the pandemic.
In their letter to Todd, the groups pointed out: “For women living in rural or island communities, women with childcare and caring responsibilities or women who experience men’s violence, access to well supported, quality abortion care at a time and place of their choosing has been enhanced by the introduction of telemedical services.”
They said: “Attending a clinic is not always a necessary element of quality early medical abortion care.
“Telemedical services are safe, effective, and accessible. They enable women in Scotland to make the right choice for them about their health regardless of geographic, economic, or social circumstances.
“We urge the Scottish Government not to reduce the availability of abortion care that meet women’s needs. Instead, we advocate in the strongest possible terms, that the Scottish Government make telemedical abortion a permanent and well supported option for care across Scotland.”
BPAS chief executive, Clare Murphy, said: “All the evidence shows that telemedical abortion care is safe, effective, and accessible for those who need it.
“Being forced to needlessly attend a clinic would make access to abortion difficult for many women in Scotland – especially those from remote, rural, and island communities where travel can be complicated and expensive.
“Eliminating the need for unnecessary travel means not having to arrange childcare, less time off from work, and not having to explain to family and friends why you need extended periods away from home.”
Murphy continued: “Not only is telemedicine safe and effective, allowing for abortion care at the earliest possible gestation, but our research has shown that 97% of women reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with the service – findings echoed by Scottish research.
“We hope that the Scottish Government will ensure the experiences of all who need abortion care are kept at the heart of decision-making.”
Emma Ritch, chief executive of Engender stated: “Access to abortion is an essential aspect of women’s human rights, and we hope that the Scottish Government will make permanent the positive and world-leading improvements to reproductive healthcare which we have seen over the past year.
“Telemedical abortion, where clinically appropriate and a woman’s preference, has proven a safe, effective, and accessible service that enables women in Scotland to make the right choice for them regardless of geographic, economic, or social barriers.”