On March 24, the UK Department of Health and Social Care website published a document announcing that those seeking abortions would be able to access medical abortions in their own homes during covid-19 self-isolation, without accessing a hospital or clinic. But hours later, the department walked that statement back, saying the document was published in error.
Currently, UK law states that “abortions in England could only be carried out in a hospital, by a specialist provider or a licensed clinic and needed to be approved by two doctors to certify that the abortion being carried out did not breach the terms of the Abortion Act 1967,” according to the Independent. The new provisions would have allowed patients to consult doctors over the telephone or video conference and would grant access pills that would allow those seeking abortions to safely manage their abortions at home.
However, within hours of news outlets first reporting the change, a spokesperson for the department told the Independent: “This was published in error. There will be no changes to abortion regulations.”
The original change to the law seemed to come in response to a letter signed by Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, among others, asking leaders to consider the 44,000 people in England and Wales who would need abortion access over the next 13 weeks. The letter also explained that many abortion providers, as well as abortion seekers, are practicing social distancing, which could leave many unable to meet the legal requirements for obtaining an abortion within government-mandated timeframes:
“In the current circumstances with Covid-19 meaning doctors are self-isolating or off sick and the NHS under immense pressure, it wastes valuable time, puts everyone at greater risk of spreading or contracting coronavirus and risks our ability to provide abortion care at all,” the letter read.
Meanwhile, in America, a group of 30 anti-abortion groups wrote their own letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calling for a “temporary” ban on abortion during the covid-19 outbreak, under the guise of joining “healthcare providers in donating their PPE [personal protective equipment] and other equipment to coronavirus response.”
Texas and Ohio have recently used similar ploys to ban abortions statewide, with Texas governor Greg Abbott issuing an executive order on March 22 to immediately cease all abortions “not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother” following a similar order from Ohio’s attorney general’s office.
But despite anti-abortion groups advocating for restrictions ostensibly in order to boost the effort to combat covid-19, many Republican lawmakers are happy to delay coronavirus prevention and treatment efforts if it means denying access to abortion. As Beth Vial, board member of the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, pointed out in an op-ed for Newsweek, Republican lawmakers held up the passage of a coronavirus relief bill by attempting to use it as a Trojan horse that would make permanent federal law of the Hyde Amendment, prohibiting coverage of abortion by Medicare and Medicaid.