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Unsafe maternity units and DIY abortions prove UK politicians are not concerned about women’s health

Unsafe maternity units and DIY abortions prove UK politicians are not concerned about women’s health

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (“SPUC”) has said that “the shocking state of maternity care” in the UK is “part of a broader indifference towards the health of women and their babies”, including the promulgation of DIY abortion.

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67% of maternity units in England are currently rated unsafe by the Care Quality Commission (“CQC”), an increase from 55% a year ago, according to a BBC analysis last month.  The number of units receiving “inadequate” safety ratings was also found to have doubled from 7% to 15% since September last year.

Meanwhile, a survey found that recent mothers are three times more likely to die in the UK than in Norway. The study, published in the BMJ, ranked the UK the second lowest out of eight developed countries.

Another study also found that mothers dying during or after pregnancy had risen by nearly 20% in recent years – when 229 mothers died during pregnancy or up to six weeks after birth between 2018 to 2020.

“Maternal mortality rates are a barometer of health systems”, stated Professor Marian Knight, the lead author of the study, and noted that “maternal mortality has got significantly worse.”

DIY Abortions

At-home or telemedicine abortion was introduced on 30 March 2020 as a temporary measure during the covid pandemic. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care approved two temporary measures to allow women to self-administer medical (chemical) abortions at home, without meeting with a medical professional in person.

DIY abortions put women at greater risk of physical and psychological dangers as well as facilitating coercion from abusive men. The policy is impossible to regulate and abortion drugs could be obtained under false pretences: it is possible to deliberately give false information to abortion providers to obtain the drugs illegally and, more worryingly, women can obtain the drugs falsely for other people.

“In the more than three years since this ‘pills by post’ policy has been in place, evidence of the risk it poses to women, and the difficulties of regulating it, has been mounting,” SPUC said.

Further reading: Scottish OBGYN says DIY home abortions are like “backstreet abortions” and a “disservice to women”

While the legal limit for most abortions is 24 weeks, remote abortion at home is limited to 10 weeks’ gestation because the risk of incomplete abortion and the incidence of harmful effects increases with each week of gestation.  According to a report published by SPUC, the risks for abortions over the 10-week limit include:

  • In one UK study more than 50% of women having abortions after 13 weeks needed subsequent surgical intervention.
  • Another study concluded that medical abortion through telemedicine at more than 9 weeks of gestation is associated with a higher risk of same-day or day-after clinical visits for concerns related to the procedure, and this risk increases with gestational age. Surgical intervention alone was 22.6% for the more than weeks gestational-age group and 12.5% for less than 9 weeks.
  • A third study found that for telemedicine abortions with a gestational age over 13 weeks, the completion rate was just 48%, and 45% required surgical intervention.

While there aren’t definitive figures for the number of Pills by Post abortions, taking both abortion drugs at home is now the most common procedure, accounting for 52% of all abortions in 2021.

Freedom of Information Act responses from NHS Trusts in England show that 5.9% of women using medical abortion are subsequently treated in hospital for complications arising from an incomplete abortion. This means that at least one in 20 of those women who self-manage their abortion at home will suffer complications arising from incomplete abortion. These women will need to seek medical help, usually at their local NHS hospital, or continue to suffer ongoing bleeding and risk infection.

The SPUC report states that since the beginning of 2019, across England and Wales, at least 590,000 women have self-managed their abortions at home.  Assuming a treatment failure rate of 5%, 29,000 women will have suffered complications and 25 women will need hospital intervention every day because of failed medical abortion at home.

There are also the psychological effects of DIY abortions to consider.  A medical abortion is a drawn-out process that involves a degree and type of physical suffering quite different to a surgical abortion; the complications are more frequent and completing the process at home is very different to doing so in a medical setting. Going through the process at home may lead to more adverse psychological consequences, in part because a woman may be alone when she aborts and will also likely see the baby that is expelled.

Following a public consultation, the UK Government announced that the policy will end in August 2022. However, abortion providers lobbied hard to make the measure permanent.  On 30 March, Members of Parliament voted in favour of a Lords’ amendment to the Healthcare Bill to make the controversial Pills by Post abortion scheme permanent.

The information above was taken from various articles on SPUC’s website and its report titled ‘Justice for Baby Lily: Why the Pills by Post abortion policy must end’.  You can read SPUC’s 16-page report HERE.

Indifference towards the health and safety of mothers

In response to BBC’s analysis of CQC records,  SPUC’s Michael Robinson, Executive Director of Public Affairs and Legal Services, said:

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