New FSRH and RCOG free abortion care resource for secondary schools
Date: 30 Jan 2019
Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of FSRH, and Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), discuss the latest developments in reproductive health policy in the UK as both organisations launch today new resource on abortion care for RSE lessons.
The beginning of 2019 brings important news in abortion care and relationships and sex education (RSE): the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have launched a free educational resource to support teachers with relationships and sex education lessons in secondary schools in the UK. It provides factually accurate, unbiased and evidence-based information on abortion care in the UK and dispels myths that are known to be taught in schools. It is officially endorsed by Public Health England, PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum.
This valuable resource comes at a time of significant developments in reproductive health policy in the UK. Late last year, the Department of Health and Social Care approved the home use of misoprostol – the second drug used to induce a medical abortion – for women in England. The decision is a major step forward for women's healthcare. Over 100,000 women in England have early medical abortions each year, which accounts for the majority of terminations of pregnancy. This change will allow women to avoid pain, distress and bleeding during their journey home from an unnecessary second visit to a clinic or hospital. It also takes pressure off NHS services. New RCOG, FSRH and BSACP clinical guidance published this month offers healthcare professionals recommendations of best practice for early medical abortion at home and is an example of how decisions such as this improve access to safe and regulated abortion care.
Wales and Scotland have shown leadership in this respect, making the same decision on home use of misoprostol earlier than England. However, the provision of abortion care is still highly variable or inequitable throughout the UK; many women from Northern Ireland still have to travel to other parts of the UK to access care. The decisions in England, Wales and Scotland to provide free abortion care in the NHS for women travelling from Northern Ireland is welcome, but it does not change the fact that access to safe abortion care will only improve when criminal sanctions associated with abortion are removed throughout the UK. Pressure is mounting after the successful referendum which legalised abortion in the Republic of Ireland last year. The Women and Equalities Committee have established an inquiry into abortion law in Northern Ireland and a private member’s bill to decriminalise abortion in the UK was also introduced in Parliament last year.
A less welcome development last year was the decision by the Home Office not to introduce legislation on buffer zones following a review of protests outside abortion clinics, despite evidence that this sort of intimidation and harassment is detrimental to healthcare professionals and patients. Over the last 12 months alone, at least 29 providers have been affected at both NHS and independent facilities. Intimidating staff who are providing a lawful and key service in women’s health and approaching potentially vulnerable women accessing this service is unacceptable. Public Spaces Protection Orders can be useful to protect women and staff, but they have not been designed for this purpose. Introducing legislation would guarantee that the approach to counteracting these protests is consistent and effective.
Resources such as the new FSRH-RCOG leaflet on abortion care are important to help promote factual appreciation of these sensitive issues and to communicate top-level healthcare policy changes simply and clearly in order to equip society, including young people, with the information they to make the best decisions about their own reproductive health. Against this background of key policy developments over the last years, we are confident that 2019 will see more progress in promoting the reproductive health and rights of women and girls.
Piece originally published on the January 2019 issue of the Sexual Health, Reproductive Health & HIV Policy eBulletin