A six-month extension has been applied to a temporary policy that allows women to take medical abortion pills at home.
The measure was initially introduced when Covid hit, so that women would not have to visit a clinic and, instead, could access treatment after a telephone or online consultation.
Medical abortion involves taking two different medicines to end pregnancy.
Before the pandemic, only the second pill could be taken at home, not the first.
Campaigners say they would like the home option to remain indefinitely.
A public consultation ran from November 2020 to February 2021 which sought views on whether to make measures permanent. Domestic abuse was raised as an issue.
The government says the wellbeing and safety of women requiring access to abortion services has been, and will continue to be, the first and foremost priority.
Early medical abortion
Women wanting an early medical abortion – when they are fewer than 10 weeks pregnant – 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.
It does not need surgery or an anaesthetic.
Maggie Throup, Minister for Vaccines and Public Health, confirmed in a written statement that the policy would only be extended until the end of 29 August 2022.
“From this point, the pre-Covid regulatory requirements for the provision of early medical abortion will be reinstated,” she said.
“After careful consideration, the government’s view is that the provision of early medical abortion should return to pre-Covid arrangements. The wellbeing and safety of women requiring access to abortion services has been, and will continue to be, our first and foremost priority.”
Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said she hopes the service will remain in place beyond the initial six-month period.
“If, at the end of this six-month period, the government were indeed to revoke legal permission for this service, it would be a shameful betrayal of women and a decision devoid of both evidence or justice,” she said.
“Over the next six months we will continue, along with medical experts, to reiterate to the government that removing access to at-home early medical abortion care would be disastrous for women and that to do so would be to wilfully ignore the vast body of clinical evidence that demonstrates that this is a safe, effective, and world-leading service.”
Issues relating to health are devolved, meaning that decisions are made by governments in each of the four countries of the UK.
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