RCPCH statement on early medical abortion by telemedicine

As the provision of early medical abortions by telemedicine across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland varies, RCPCH has put together a statement with our approach in principle to the policy.
RCPCH London office

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has said: 

Every child and young person has the right to the best possible health. It is in the best interests of a child or young person to have equitable access to safe, effective and quality abortion services across the UK.

Children and young people are a distinct group and telemedicine can present particular challenges for this age group, where it is especially important to consider their safeguarding and holistic wellbeing, as well as their physical health needs.

Children and young people under the age of 18 and Looked after Children up to the age of 25 must be offered and actively encouraged to take up a face-to-face appointment to assess gestation, support their holistic needs and assess any safeguarding issues as part of the pathway for early medical abortions.

We call on governments and health service providers across the UK to consider the specific needs of children and young people under the age of 18, and Looked after Children up to the age of 25, when planning, delivering and evaluating early medical abortions.

Further information

In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic the UK government put in place a temporary approval, enabling women and girls to take both pills for early medical abortion (EMA) up to 10 weeks (9 weeks and 6 days) gestation in their own homes, following a telephone or e-consultation with a clinician, without the need to first attend a hospital or clinic. The change was time limited for 2 years, or until the pandemic is over ‒ whichever is earliest.

The Department of Health and Social Care in England published a consultation on the policy, which provides useful background on the previous pathway, pathway under the temporary policy, and focus on the future. You can read the consultation background document and questions.

At present, in England what’s become known as the ‘pills by post’ policy has now been extended until August 2022. Parliamentarians are currently debating whether this should be extended indefinitely in the Health and Care Bill.

In Wales, the First Minister announced in February that the temporary policy around early medical abortion was being made permanent. The Scottish Government has commissioned an independent evaluation to assess the effectiveness of the current approach to early medical abortion at home. Northern Ireland are currently not commissioning early medical abortion services.   

Clinical guidelines

You may also wish to look at the 2020 clinical guidelines on abortion services brought together by a range of organisations, including Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. 

Update - new guidance

On 30 August 2022, we published new safeguarding guidance for health organisations providing early medical abortions for young people under 18 years. Read more about this or go to full guidance on our Child Protection Portal