Women should be able to take abortion pills in their own home without seeing a doctor face to face, leading medics have said.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says women should be able to obtain abortion pills following an online chat, such as via Skype or FaceTime.
Its new report, Better For Women, aims to remove barriers to accessing care by making more use of technology such as telemedicine.
In one scenario, medics would be able to give consent without a face-to-face appointment, then women would collect the tablets from their nearest pharmacy, an RCOG spokesman said.
Women are already allowed to take the second medicine needed for an early medical abortion, misoprostol, at home.
The RCOG report said the Department of Health and Social Care should also now consider allowing women to take the first drug, mifepristone, in their own home.
Professor Lesley Regan, president of the RCOG, said: “Our Better For Women report raises many important issues around women’s healthcare, including easy access to contraception, abortion and fertility services.
“In 2018 the Department of Health and Social Care greatly improved women’s experience of abortion care when it allowed women to take misoprostol, the second drug used to effect an early medical abortion, at home.
“Since then women no longer have to suffer the distress or embarrassment of bleeding and cramping pain during their journey home.
“In 2019 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommended greater use of online and telephone consultations to streamline the provision of abortion care.
“To support this new best practice guidance, the Department of Health and Social Care should also consider allowing women, after their assessment, to take mifepristone in the comfort and convenience of their own home.
“This would improve the accessibility of early medical abortion care for women, particularly for those who live in rural areas or those with child caring commitments.”
RCOG medics also believe the current definition of “at home” is restrictive and should be widened.
For example, women without a fixed address may not qualify for the ability to take their abortion drugs at home.
The study also said the UK and devolved governments “must legislate to introduce access zones around abortion care providers” to stop women being harassed.
The report said: “All women should be able to access abortion care easily and without fear of penalties or harassment.
“The RCOG must continue to work with partner organisations to advocate for the decriminalisation of abortion up to 24 weeks across the UK.”
An RCOG survey of more than 3,000 women to accompany the report found many are struggling to access basic services around contraception, abortion care and the menopause.
Nearly four in 10 (37%) women said they are unable to access contraception services locally and 60% cannot access unplanned pregnancy services, including abortion care, locally.
Just over a third (34%) said they did not attend their last smear test and 58% feel there are no local support services for the menopause.
The RCOG said one-stop women’s health clinics must be set up to provide healthcare needs for women in one location and at one time.
These clinics should be available in the evenings and at weekends to improve accessibility for girls and women, it added.
In 2018, there were 200,608 abortions across England and Wales – an increase of 4% on the previous year.
Antonia Tully, campaigns director for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “The RCOG approach is propaganda to deceive women into thinking that abortion pills are safe and simple. They are neither.
“They are powerful drugs designed to kill an unborn baby. And without face-to-face contact with medical staff, this policy will drive vulnerable women, often coerced into abortion by abusive men, even further under the radar.”