A free, confidential telephone helpline has launched to help women who have bought illegal abortion pills online.
The aftercare helpline will be run by The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) for women in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, where access to abortion services is currently highly restricted.
When faced with an unwanted pregnancy, women from these areas are often forced to travel for abortion treatment. Those unable to travel sometimes resort to breaking the law and ordering pills over the internet.
The confidential nurse-led telephone service will offer advice to women who have obtained pills from the online not-for-profit clinics run by Women Help Women (WHW) and Women on Web (WOW) and who are concerned about any symptoms or simply want to speak to someone.
BPAS has said it knows WHW and WOW “provide the same high quality, safe medications to women who are up to 10 weeks pregnant that are provided from bpas clinics”.
While adverse events are extremely unlikely, BPAS is concerned that because they are committing an illegal act, women may not always seek help when they need it.
Early medical abortion involves taking two sets of medications, mifepristone (which detaches the pregnancy from the lining of the womb) and then misoprostol (which causes the womb to contract and expel the pregnancy). Women who receive treatment at BPAS go home to pass the pregnancy, and are able to call the helpline 24-hours-a-day, every day of the year, if they have questions or concerns.
This service is now being extended to include women who have taken pills supplied by WHW and WOW in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man.
Women in these areas are increasingly using this option as the logistics and costs of travel, treatment and accommodation can be prohibitive.
According to BPAS, WHW and WOW already provide women with comprehensive information about what to expect and when to seek help, but the BPAS aftercare phone line will provide another option for those women who wish to speak to someone, or who need immediate help.
Women will be able to seek reassurance on the telephone about levels of bleeding, what to do if it appears nothing has happened, and when care should be accessed urgently.
On the very rare occasion BPAS believes emergency help is required, a member of staff will also call an ambulance.
Women who have purchased online medication from services not provided by WHW and WOW will be advised to seek medical help immediately.
Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said: “What these women really need are accessible, high quality abortion services at home. They shouldn’t have to make the choice between travelling to England and breaking the law by purchasing pills online.
“While we wait for politicians to do the right thing, BPAS will provide telephone aftercare to women who have bought pills online from these two women’s organisations and who want to speak to someone in confidence about what they are experiencing, or who simply need a reassuring voice at the end of the line. We will be here for these women 24 hours a day until they no longer need us.”
Kinga Jelinska, executive director of WHW, added: “Women Help Women welcomes the launch of the BPAS abortion aftercare hotline.
“While abortion with pills is safe and effective, and most women are very satisfied with an online service, it will be very helpful to have direct support for women who may want clinical reassurance in the case of a possible complication.
“Until laws are changed that allow every woman to access abortion care in a clinic without traveling, we are so appreciative that BPAS is creating this service for all women in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.”
The aftercare helpline launches on 1 September 2016 and can be accessed by calling the following numbers:
From Ireland: 1800 910 049
From Northern Ireland: 0800 077 6049
From the Isle of Man: 0800 077 6049