While the American government has removed limits on chemical abortions by telemedicine, offering blithe assurances of safety, health ministers from England have announced that come August 30, 2022, they will be reinstating limits on the abortion “pills by post” scheme they had temporarily allowed during the COVID pandemic.
A copy of the English government’s 2/24/22 press release can be found here.
American abortion activists had pushed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to follow the lead of their British counterparts in March 2020 in allowing abortion pills to be prescribed and mailed to a woman’s home after a video or phone consultation. This ostensibly was to protect her from exposure to the virus she might encounter coming in for an in-person clinical visit.
Back in the U.S., after several legal back and forths and a change in presidential administrations, the FDA agreed to suspend regulations requiring an in-person visit for delivery of the abortion pills in April of 2021 for the sake of the pandemic, with a promise to review the regulation over the coming months. In December of 2021, Biden’s FDA made the suspension permanent, independent of the status of the virus, agreeing that various studies submitted by abortion activists had shown telemedical abortion sufficiently “safe and effective.”
This is what makes the English government’s decision to end the telemedical abortion program there all the more remarkable. Presumably having access to all the same studies and research, the English Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) looked at the data and apparently said “No.” They didn’t consider the “pills by post” program sufficiently safe or effective to allow it to continue once the pandemic wound down.
The DHSC did not make its rationale public beyond noting that they ran a “public consultation” between November 2020 and February 2021 soliciting views on whether to make the allowance for home abortions permanent. In a public statement, the DHSC claimed they had received over 18,000 consolation responses, with the majority in favor of ending the approval.
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The issue of “domestic abuse” came up in the consultations, the DHSC said, but did not explain this further. A concern raised by pro-lifers in America has been the potential for abuse in the internet and mail order system. Unscrupulous partners posing as pregnant women could order abortion pills which are then given to women without their knowledge or consent. (There have seen several legal cases where this has already happened in the U.S.).
Whether this is what happened in England, we do not know. However, the DHSC wished to make clear “we intend to work closely with the Violence Against Women and Girls sector and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to ensure safeguarding and domestic abuse are central to ongoing work.”
Some allusion to safety issues with telemedical abortions seems implied by the DHSC’s closing statement that “The wellbeing and safety of women requiring access to abortion services has been, and will continue to be, our first and foremost priority.”
Despite assurances of American abortion activists that telemedical chemical abortions were just as safe as those of women who obtained their pills directly from the abortion clinic, those studies generally glossed over serious safety issues exposed by the studies.
Researchers might claim to have stellar safety and efficacy rates among the women for whom they had data, but could not be so certain about the condition of those women of whom they lost track. Aid Access, an international group which has sold abortion pills online to women in America, reported “success” rates of over 96% in a recent study published in the Lancet. They downplayed the fact that they lost track of 30% of the women to whom they mailed the pills.
When one considers how women dealing with serious bleeding or cramping issues, infections, or rupturing ectopic pregnancies after receiving these pills by mail are more likely to seek help at their local emergency room than they are to try and contact the salesperson who sold them these pills, often from another country, the high safety or success rates claimed by these studies are laughable.
It is probably no coincidence that this decision by the English government comes on the heels of a recent report by a public health researcher in Britain that looked at the numbers of chemical abortion patients treated at British hospitals from June 2019 through May 2021. The data reported back to Percuity, the research firm, found that 5.9% of women having complications connected to an incomplete abortion with “retained products of conception.” Three percent of women in the survey required surgery to deal with these incomplete abortions and 2.3% of chemical abortion patients had to be treated for hemorrhage.
This was while official government reports were putting complication rates at hundreds of thousandths of a percent.
Even more to the point, because the time frame of the study straddled the time at which the government authorized its “pills by post” program, Percuity was able to compare safety and efficacy rates before and after the government’s decision. When more of these abortions were done at home, results clearly showed an increase in complications, in incomplete abortions, in surgery to address these, and in cases of hemorrhage.
With telemedicine and phone interviews, prescribers are not able to actually physically examine and screen would be abortion pill patients. While a woman coming to the clinic can have her pregnancy more precisely dated by ultrasound, and can ensure that the child is safely burrowed in the uterine wall instead of lodged in the narrow fallopian tube, a nurse screening someone over the phone will have to rely on the woman’s honesty and best estimate of the length and location of her pregnancy.
Is she misestimates the date of her last menstrual period or fails to notice any symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, she could encounter trouble, as the abortion pill’s effectiveness wanes and the risk of complications increases the farther along she is in the pregnancy.
Time will tell how things will ultimately play out in England, but for the moment, it appears that their government has done a much better job at “following the science” than our own government agency has.