MORE research is needed on continuing virtual appointments for abortion care post-Covid after thousands of people answered a public call-out, a consultation says.

Telephone and video appointments were brought in on a temporary basis to help women speak to medics about undergoing a medical termination at home during lockdown.

Patients in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy have been able to carry out the process at home by taking two sets of pills under prescription since 2017. At-home provision was extended last year to include remote consultations to discuss options with medics in response to Covid. The Scottish Government’s been consulting on whether or not to make that provision permanent.

READ MORE: Remote abortion care must continue after Covid, health campaigners say

Earlier this month The National revealed how more than 30 organisations including BMA Scotland, Engender, Rape Crisis Scotland and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service had signed a joint letter urging ministers not to end remote appointments.

It came as several campaigns – one pro-choice and several pro-life – urged the public to join their push on the matter. One drive, by anti-abortion group Right to Life, drew more than 3000 responses, most of which most – 2780 – used standardised responses.

More than 5600 submissions were made to the consultation. But the Right to Life campaign drew so many responses – around half of all those sent in – it was found to skew the data.

While more than 60% of respondents said they’d prefer an end to remote appointments, this fell to 20% when the campaign’s standard responses were excluded.

A consultation analysis report says: “There may be a case for delaying any decision on the future arrangements (after Covid-19 no longer presents a significant risk) until more data becomes available and greater levels of research have been undertaken to establish the impacts of the current EMAH [early medical abortion at home] arrangements.”

Concerns were raised about support for patients as well as the ability of clinicians to identify signs of abuse and coercion over phone or screen. However, others said it had proven successful and allowed women experiencing harm at home to seek help.

The consultation report said a “significant proportion of those against EMAH were also against any and all forms of abortion” and some of the concerns raised were not “specifically related” to the issue. Outwith the Right to Life campaign, there was “a reasonably even split” between those wanting to retain the current approach and those who sought “other” blended or other models.

Catherine Robinson of Right to Life UK said: “It is clear from the responses to this consultation that there is very little public appetite for making these dangerous ‘DIY’ abortion services available permanently in Scotland.”

She went on: “We are also very concerned about clear bias shown in the reporting of the consultation results. In the reporting of the results, the Scottish Government has separated responses from members of the public that came from a Right To Life UK campaign encouraging the public to make a submission.

Emma Ritch, executive director of Engender, said: “We are pleased, and relieved, to see that telemedical abortion services will be continued, albeit temporarily. To remove these services would be to roll back progress on women’s reproductive rights, and add in unnecessary barriers to accessing healthcare.

“Some responses to this consultation, however, highlight concerning levels of misogyny and misinformation about abortion. Abortion is a safe and commonplace medical procedure which is experienced by one in four women in Scotland.

“The Scottish Government should make policy decisions about abortion based on evidence provided by equality organisations and medical professionals with a long history of providing reproductive services for women. They should not allow reactionary and ill-informed opinions to undermine women’s rights.”