The amendment marks the single biggest positive change to abortion care in the UK since the 1967 Abortion Act and has been hailed a “huge win for women”.
Following a vote by MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday 30 March, women in England will continue being given access to abortion pills at home.
It was previously announced that the provision, which was introduced as part of emergency measures taken during the pandemic, would continue until 29 August, after which it would be revoked.
However, the House of Lords voted in favour of keeping it as it examined the Health and Care Bill and the service will now become part of the UK’s abortion care system on a permanent basis.
A number of MPs raised concern the axing of the service could increase late abortions and voted to keep the change by 215 votes to 188.
A total of 72 Conservative MPs voted in support of continued access while 174 opposed the move. 125 Labour MPs supported the measure and four voted against it.
The amendment marks the single biggest positive change to abortion care in the UK since the Abortion Act of 1967, which provided women with a number of legal routes under which to access safe abortions.
The Women’s Equality Party, who organised a mass protest yesterday that included 7000 phone calls to Health Secretary Sajid Javid called the decision a “huge win for women”.
“Whether you signed our petition, joined our mass-call to Sajid Javid, or wrote to your MP, YOU made this happen,” it wrote on Instagram.
Charity MSI Reproductive Choices said in a statement that it was “delighted that MPs have voted to keep the option of at-home abortion care.”
“This was a vote for evidence over ideology, a vote for reproductive rights, and a vote for gender equality.
“Everyone chooses abortion for different reasons and under different circumstances. It is important that we can offer options that take into account personal circumstances – and that includes taking both pills at home.
“Trusting people to make these choices for themselves is a vital part of how MSI delivers high quality, responsive care for anyone who needs us.”
Since it was first introduced in 2020, research has indicated that the teleabortion service has had a positive impact. Indeed, one study of 1,200 women published in the BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health journal showed that eight out of 10 patients preferred to access abortion telemedicine during the pandemic. And two-thirds of the women surveyed said they would choose to have an abortion at home if they needed to terminate another pregnancy, even without the threat of Covid-19.
But the positive impact of at-home abortions is not the only reason why introducing them on a permanent basis is so important: it also allows vulnerable women, including victims of domestic abuse, to seek care privately and safely, and will stop the surge in waiting times expected if the option of telemedicine was revoked.
Indeed, as Jonathan Lord, UK medical director for MSI Reproductive Choices, said when the government first announced its intention to revoke the service: “[The at-home abortion service] has reduced waiting times and offered greater choice, which is particularly vital for vulnerable clients, such as women in abusive relationships or anyone else who can’t safely travel to a clinic.
“If this service ends, everyone would be unnecessarily forced to travel to a hospital or clinic, often having to face the threat of anti-choice groups gathered outside, for the sole purpose of swallowing a tablet, which can be taken perfectly safely at home.”