Coronavirus: Home abortions approved during outbreak

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Women and girls will now be able to take both abortion pills at home

Patients in England can now have home abortions during the Covid-19 outbreak, the government in England has said.

Abortion policy has changed several times during the current pandemic.

Women and girls wanting to terminate an early pregnancy were first told the service would be available but that decision was then retracted.

Now, the government has decided patients can take two pills at home instead of going to a clinic to avoid exposure to coronavirus.

Charities had been worried that women who want an abortion but have underlying health conditions would put themselves at risk to have the procedure or turn to dangerous alternatives.

'Temporary basis'

The Department of Health in England told Newsbeat that "public safety and continued access to key services is our priority during this difficult period.

"We are updating our guidance so women who need an abortion up to ten weeks and can't access a clinic can use abortion pills at home.

"This measure will be on a temporary basis and must follow a telephone or e-consultation with a doctor."

It told us it will set out the next steps "shortly" for England.

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Issues relating to health are devolved meaning that decisions are made by governments in each of the four countries of the UK.

It looks like what is available for those wanting an abortion depends on where you live and get treated.

What's happening where?

The laws on abortion have just changed in Northern Ireland with it being decriminalised in October last year. Patients have been travelling to England to have a termination but that was due to change in April.

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland told Newsbeat that "women from Northern Ireland could continue to use the services offered in England. The Covid-19 situation will require reconsideration of how this service can be made available to women living in Northern Ireland."

The health minister is "considering urgently" whether that means women still travelling to England for a termination, or instead getting access to home abortion pills.

The Welsh Government told Newsbeat it is "considering temporary changes to enable women seeking early medical abortions to continue to access this provision during the coronavirus pandemic."

This message was repeated by the Scottish government.

It said it is "actively working with abortion care providers to temporarily enable patients having an early medical abortion to have their consultation by telephone or video call so they can follow public health advice to stay at home and minimize social contact.

"Following the consultation, if the patient wishes to proceed the medication will be delivered to her home."

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Labour MP Stella Creasy campaigned to bring about the change in law in Northern Ireland.

"Health care is a devolved matter but that doesn't devolve a human right not to be forced to have an unwanted pregnancy," she told Newsbeat.

What is a medical abortion?

Around 180,000 abortions are carried out in England each year, with medical abortions the most common way of ending an unwanted pregnancy, official government figures show.

Women wanting an early medical abortion - that's in the first trimester of pregnancy - take two types of tablet.

The first, mifepristone, stops the hormone that allows the pregnancy to continue working.

The second, misoprostol, is normally taken 24 to 48 hours later, and encourages the womb to contract to pass the pregnancy.

After four to six hours the lining of the womb breaks down, causing bleeding and loss of the pregnancy.

Under current regulations women wanting to end a pregnancy have to go to a registered clinic to collect and take the first pill. They are given the second medication to take at home.

However, the leading provider of abortion services in the UK, BPAS insists there is no need to go to a clinic.

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