Scottish bishop: Permission for wholly at-home medical abortion is ideological

The president of the Scottish bishops’ conference wrote yesterday to the Scottish health secretary, saying the permission for women to self-administer both stages of a medical abortion at home during coronavirus is born of ideology rather than true concern for women.

“I believe it is profoundly depressing that in the midst of this unprecedented global pandemic when the resources of almost every government on earth are being diverted towards the preservation of life, especially the lives of the weak and vulnerable, the Scottish Government continues to act to end the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, the unborn,” Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen wrote April 24 to Jeane Freeman, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and a member of the Scottish National Party.

“It is more than disheartening that the Scottish Government should see fit to promote ‘abortion at home’ as though this were a trivial matter equivalent to taking any other medication at home. A position like this appears to be more a matter of ideology than of genuine and dispassionate concern for women’s wellbeing,” the bishop, a Benedictine, wrote.

The Scottish government has lifted restrictions on-at-home medical abortions during coronavirus.

A medical abortion is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone blocks the effects of the progesterone hormone, inducing a miscarriage. Misoprostol is taken up to two days later and induces labour.

Women in Scotland have been able to self-administer misoprostol in their homes since 2018. However, until recently, they had to take mifepristone at a clinic.

The medications will be delivered by mail.

Because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the Scottish government has allowed at-home self-administration of mifepristone as well, following a phone or video consultation with a doctor.

A similar permission was made in England last month, and Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland has pressed for a similar change in that region.

Bishop Gilbert said he found the Scottish government’s decision “deeply troubling.”

He said that while mifepristone and misoprostol “not only end the life of an unborn child,” they “are also a risk to the health of its mother,” noting that even in the best of circumstances – administration at a clinic with several hours of clinical observation – there is “a real risk of severe bleeding and sepsis in a small number, and a need for further surgery in a larger proportion, depending on the stage of the pregnancy.”

The bishop added that “vulnerable women in unsatisfactory domestic circumstances are particularly at risk.”

He asked whether, under the new policy, women are “receiving information on all available options including details of organisations which can offer support to both the mother and the baby,” if enough time is given to counselling during the consultation, and “is it appropriate for drugs which end the life of a human being to be sent by post, trivialising what is an extremely serious and life-changing procedure”.

“Aside from the Scottish Bishops’ Conference’s absolute opposition to abortion, there are also serious practical concerns involved here,” he said. “The decision to allow women to take potent abortifacient  medications  in a largely unsupervised manner at home is not only fatal for the innocent human beings in the womb but also constitutes a real risk to women’s present and longer term health and wellbeing.”

Bishop Gilbert added that “it is of particular concern that there is no way of establishing that a woman is not being coerced into an abortion in the context of a poorly safeguarded online consultation.”

“In the current situation, there is already an increase in complaints about domestic abuse since the Coronavirus restrictions were put in place. It is far from clear how the Scottish Government proposes to set in place the prudent support procedures which permit all the relevant factors in each individual case privately and without coercion.”