Abortion laws have been relaxed to allow women to take pills at home to terminate a pregnancy.
The measures – put in place so women do not have to visit a hospital or clinic – will last two years or until the coronavirus epidemic ends.
Women can use the pills up to the 10th week of pregnancy. They must consult a doctor over the phone or video chat to get a prescription, with the pills sent by post.
Medical abortions require two pills – mifepristone and misoprostol.
Prior to the announcement, abortions in England could only be carried out in a hospital, by a specialist provider or by a licensed clinic and needed to be approved by two doctors to certify that it did not breach the terms of the Abortion Act 1967.
Campaigners had warned 44,000 women in England and Wales would need to visit doctors to access early medical abortions in the next 13 weeks – and such travel would severely harm the Government’s social distancing strategy.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said last night: ‘Public safety and continued access to key services is our priority during this difficult period.
‘We are updating our guidance so women who need an abortion up to ten weeks and can’t access a clinic can use abortion pills at home. This will be on a temporary basis and must follow a telephone or e-consultation with a doctor.’
Pro-life groups have fiercely opposed the measures and accused the abortion lobby of taking ‘advantage of this crisis’ to lobby for the ‘backdoor policy’.
But Dr Patricia Lohr, medical director at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: ‘Many women with unwanted pregnancies are currently unable to leave their homes or are having to travel across the country to access care as services buckle, putting themselves and those they come into contact with at needless risk.
Every day of delay forces hundreds of women from their homes, including those with underlying health conditions.
We are extremely grateful to the dozens of leaders in public health who made their voices heard on this crucial issue in women’s health at a time of national crisis.’