Updated: Mar 21, 2022
I wish to draw attention to the recent announcement from the UK government that they will end telemedicine abortions by autumn, a decision which we should follow.
The UK provisions were first introduced in March 2020 by the British Government as a temporary Covid-19 response, and when our then-Minister for Health Simon Harris followed suit in early 2020, modeling the system on the UK’s decision, we were also told this would be a temporary measure.
Now that Covid-19 restrictions are increasingly being lifted and that our nearest neighbor has taken steps to end telemedicine abortion, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly should now do the same. On health and safety grounds alone, the case for ending telemedicine abortions is overwhelming.
Mounting evidence shows that telemedicine abortion has many risks and dangers. In England, emergency ambulance responses to complications related to abortions have spiked since telemedicine was introduced. In London specifically, monthly ambulance dispatches dealing with abortion-pill-related complications have doubled since telemedicine was introduced.
Research released in November 2021 revealed that more than 10,000 women had received hospital treatment following the at-home use of abortion pills between April 2020 and September 2021.
Unfortunately, we are forced to rely on data from the UK as neither the HSE nor the Department of Health has conducted any research in Ireland on the impact of telemedicine abortions, instead, they have relied solely on literature from the UK. This was a shocking oversight on their part and one which has endangered the lives of Irish women. But it is sufficient to say that if these cases can happen in England then they can happen in Ireland too.
Telemedicine abortion separates a woman from her doctor – as a system, it is more open to abuse than a face-to-face consultation, for example through coercion by a partner.
Additionally, a woman cannot receive an in-person examination from her doctor, making it impossible to verify the woman’s gestational stage, raising questions of legality under the 2018 Act.
I believe the overwhelming evidence is pointing in one clear direction. Without hesitation or equivocation, Minister Donnelly must take immediate steps to end telemedicine home abortion.