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The Year of the Abortion


THIS is proving to be a big year of change in abortion provision in Great Britain.

March saw the expansion of ‘DIY abortions’ with a law being rushed through Parliament, with almost no scrutiny or guidelines, permitting women to take two powerful abortion drugs without any medical supervision. Despite this being fast-tracked as a temporary measure, using highly dubious arguments, these DIY terminations, accessible with just a brief phone consultation, are likely to become permanent. according to new reports

The stated premise behind the ‘pills by post’ measures  was to limit the transmission of Covid-19, so the use of both abortion pills could be approved without the need to attend a hospital or clinic. However abortion clinics remained open all through lockdown, unlike many health centres, so terminations have been as easily accessible as they have always been.

Also in March the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations came into force, introducing to Northern Ireland one of the most extreme abortion regimes in the world and overriding opposition from the Assembly in Stormont.

In June, the latest statistics were released, showing that abortions in England and Wales have increased to the highest number ever recorded – 207,384 in one year. This is about one every two minutes.

This number is hardly likely to fall since it has become so quick and easy to obtain a medical abortion. Now 73 per cent of abortions are medical, not surgical, in England and Wales (86 per cent in Scotland).  This means that 151,400 women had a medical abortion in 2019 in England and Wales.

As well as convenience, privacy and speed for women, financial cost will undoubtedly have something to do with the increase in medical abortions. With pills there is no need for anaesthetics, a stay in a medical centre, surgical equipment or abortion doctors. By ‘financial cost’, I refer to the costs for abortion clinics and, by extension, to the NHS, since 99 per cent of all abortions are now paid for by the NHS (our taxes). The NHS pays for all abortions in hospitals and also pays private abortion clinics to do them. The demand is now so high that 74 per cent take place in private clinics as the NHS does not have the capacity. No doubt, therefore, ever-cheaper home terminations are attractive to a cash-strapped NHS. Abortion clinics are certainly running a good business,  with highly paid managers, well-structured business plans and marketing tactics, powerful advocates in Westminster pushing to remove all limits on abortion, and (conveniently) rising demand for their ‘abortion care packages’. There is more than just lives at stake here.

However I have more concern about the health and safety dangers, and psychological harm, for women having medical abortions than I do about the finances.

We hear little about when medical abortions go wrong, but what few realise is how often they do go wrong. 

The chemicals that women take must be powerful enough kill the living human foetus and to ensure the womb contracts enough to expel it, along with the placenta and other pregnancy tissues. The womb is designed to protect the foetus so these drugs need to be strong.

Research on 43,000 women in Finland found that 20 per cent had complications after a medical abortion. In one centre in the UK, more than 50 per cent needed surgical evacuation of the foetus after a failed medical abortion. On the basis that 73 per cent of abortions in England and Wales in 2019 were medical, assuming a rate of 20 per cent of these having some complications, this would equate to more than 30,000 women experiencing some sort of complications from their medical abortion.

However our recording of abortion data is so poor in England and Wales that we just do not know what the situation is and have to reply on data from other countries to inform us of the medical risks that women are taking, as I explain in this blog. 

Common sense however tells us that if women are taking powerful abortion drugs at home with no medical supervision then there is no control over:

·       The amount or dosage they take;

·       The timing between taking the two pills;

·       The method of taking them (if following medical protocols);

·       Who is taking them (as this news report shows);

·       The gestation of pregnancy (at least one mother took them at 28 weeks, way beyond the recommended 10 weeks);

·       Where they are being taken;

·       Any follow-up;

·       Any coercion into taking them.

I also find it disturbing that there have been almost no studies on the emotional and psychological consequences of having a self-induced abortion at home. 

I say ‘almost no studies’ because one there has been one particularly fascinating peer-reviewed study on the effects of a drug-induced medical abortion. The research was revealing, especially as it was able to use a proper control group. 

It is the first research to investigate the biological and behavioural effects of medical abortion in an animal model, in this case rats. The rat is one of the primary models for studies of human reproduction, providing valuable insights into how humans function. 

I explain more in this blog but, briefly, the research found the rats which had a chemical abortion clearly showed moderate to severe stress, whereas the rats which  went to a full-term pregnancy, and even those which had a natural miscarriage, did not. It was a controlled, objective and ethical assessment of rat behaviour pre- and post-termination, and no one can argue that rats suffered these adverse consequences because they were reflecting on what they had done, or were being made to feel guilty by society for having an abortion.

At the very least these findings highlight the urgency for objective research into the biological and behavioural effects of medical abortion.

Until such research is carried out, along with this research on rats, we do still have stories women tell:

I went to the clinic got the pills and the process started. I have never experienced that much pain, my nights were sleepless and I remember one night I was in so much pain, my boyfriend held me and started praying I was so convinced that I would die that night. It’s been a year since then and I’m terrified of the dark. I can’t talk to anyone about this fear because of how guilty I feel.

They said I was 9 weeks. I took the pill they gave me and went home. The next day, (today), I took the four pills they told me to take. Contractions started and I held it together pretty well. I was sitting in my bathtub, shower running on me when I saw the baby gently floating towards the drain. I grabbed it up in my hands and just sobbed. I couldn’t bear the thought of just letting him go down the drain. I saw it was a boy. A little boy. My child that I consented to be killed. I immediately was struck with grief as I realised the gravity of the decision I had made. My heart hurts so badly right now. I don’t see this going away any time soon.

Women deserve much more than a ‘quick fix’ DIY abortion. There are alternatives and other options, there is support available and there are many other women who want to help anyone facing a crisis or unplanned pregnancy. But of course there is no Government money or fast-tracked legislation to provide alternatives.

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Philippa Taylor
Philippa Taylor
Philippa Taylor is Head of Public Policy at the Christian Medical Fellowship @PhilippaTaylor_

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