VIDEO and phone consultations for abortion care must continue after the pandemic ends, women’s rights charities and medical experts will tell the Scottish Government today.

Since 2017, those seeking to end a pregnancy in the first 12 weeks have been able to undergo a medical abortion at home by taking two sets of pills under prescription. Until then, the process had to take place in a hospital setting.

When the Covid-19 pandemic began, remote appointments with doctors and nurses were brought in. The sessions – introduced on a temporary basis – allow patients to discuss their options and circumstances with experts, with in-person appointments still available where appropriate.

According to the Scottish Government, feedback from NHS boards shows this has reduced waiting times and “the great majority of women prefer to be able to have their abortion in the comfort and privacy of their own home”. Today, about 30 organisations including medical bodies, feminist organisations and campaign groups will ask Scottish ministers to make telemedical abortion care a permanent fixture.

The National: Childcare and Early Years Minister Maree Todd was questioned on the future of the Scottish Youth Theatre (Andrew Milligan/PA)

READ MORE: Scottish Government look to extend 'abortion at home' beyond pandemic

In a joint letter to Maree Todd (above), Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, they say the change “has been overwhelmingly positive and world-leading”. The letter – organised by the charity Engender and signed by representatives of the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland, the Royal College of Midwives and Scottish Women’s Aid, amongst others – states: “We urge the Scottish Government not to reduce the availability of abortion care that meets women’s needs.”

The Scottish Government launched a consultation on the matter in September. In the responses, the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church raises concern about the level of medical and psychological support available to patients through remote sessions, while the Catholic Medical Association says face-to-face appointments are “more rewarding and effective than telephone or video-link” versions and cites fears of coercion and abuse by third parties going unseen through the use of telemedicine, as well as of medical complications. These include the risk of potentially life-threatening ectopic pregnancies.

However, the new letter argues that “the last 14 months has demonstrated that safe, quality care can be provided remotely in Scotland”.

It goes on: “The impact of this change has been overwhelmingly positive and world-leading. A study of more than 600 women choosing medical abortion at home in NHS Lothian last year found telemedical abortion care is ‘safe, and has a high efficacy and high acceptability among women’. A similar study in England and Wales of more than 50,000 abortions before and after their respective changes found the same, further concluding that telemedical care had reduced waiting times and allowed pregnancies to be terminated at earlier gestations, minimising the risk of complications. These studies have both recently been cited by the US’s Food and Drug Administration as it changed US regulation to allow telemedical abortion.”

Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “Being forced to needlessly attend a clinic would make access to abortion difficult for many women in Scotland – especially those from remote, rural and island communities. Eliminating the need for unnecessary travel means not having to arrange childcare, less time off from work, and not having to explain to family and friends why you need extended periods away from home.”

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Emma Ritch, chief executive of Engender, said: “Access to abortion is an essential aspect of women’s human rights. This letter, from medical professionals, human rights bodies, organisations working to eradicate violence against women, and other groups, shows the breadth of support for enabling women to access safe, legal abortion remotely if that is their choice. We urge the Scottish Government not to withdraw the option of telemedical care, which would only reduce access and re-introduce barriers.”

The Scottish Government declined to comment until it has considered the letter.

The full list of signatories:

Jillian Merchant - Abortion Rights Scotland

Mhairi Snowdon - Human Rights Consortium Scotland

Naomi McAuliffe - Amnesty International

Maggie Kinloch - chair, Humanist Society Scotland 

Lucy Grieve - co-Founder, Back Off Scotland 

Richard Bentley - chief Executive, MSI Reproductive Choices UK 

Amy Gibbs - chief executive, Birthrights

Dr Nabanita Ghosh - medical director,    NUPAS 

Dr Sue Robertson - deputy chair, BMA Scotland 

Sandy Brindley - chief executive, Rape Crisis Scotland 

Clare Murphy - chief executive, British Pregnancy Advisory Service 

Dr Edward Morris - president, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 

Dr Jonathan Lord & Joanne Fletcher - co-chairs, British Society of Abortion Care Providers 

Gill Walton - chief executive, Royal College of Midwives 

Anna Ritchie Allan - executive director, Close the Gap

Girijamba Polubothu - manager, Shakti Women’s Aid 

Dr Jayne Kavanagh - co-chair, Doctors for Choice UK 

Rozanne Foyer - STUC general secretary 

Eireann McAuley - STUC equality officer

Emma Ritch - executive director, Engender 

Agnes Tolmie - chair, The Scottish Women’s Convention 

Dr Rebecca Crowther - policy coordinator, Equality Network 

Marsha Scott - chief executive, Scottish Women’s Aid 

Dr Asha Kasliwal - president, the UK’s Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) 

Josh Kennedy MSYP - chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament 

Lily Roberts - president, Glasgow Students for Choice

Dr Patrycja Kupiec - chief executive officer, YWCA Scotland: The Young Women's Movement

Professor Ian Welsh OBE - chief executive, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE) 

Rachel Adamson and Laura Tomson - co-directors, Zero Tolerance