Health and Care Bill: Bishop of Durham speaks about provision of at-home abortion

On 16th March 2022, the House of Lords debated the Health and Care Bill 2022. The Bishop of Durham spoke in opposition to an opposition to an amendment tabled by Baroness Sugg that would maintain the option of at-home early medical abortion that had initially been permitted due to the COVID-19 Pandemic:

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, for her tireless work on gender equality and areas of international development. We have often been collaborators on such matters. I also apologise to the noble Baroness if she has personally received any hurtful comments on this; some of the things I have seen were shameful. She should not have been abused in this way. Nevertheless, I will oppose her amendment; I hope she understands that this in no way lessens the way in which I honour her for her work.

I declare at the outset that the Church of England’s position on abortion is principled opposition, with a recognition that there are strictly limited conditions under which it may be preferable to any available alternative. My opposition to the amendment is based on that in part but also because I believe that the amendment is functionally inadequate in providing the necessary protections. This was a temporary measure introduced during the pandemic to allow continued access to abortion services, simply to meet a need in extraordinary circumstances. I support the Government’s decision to return to the pre-pandemic system for early medical abortions from August, which was supported by many in the public consultation response.

I also share the concerns of respondents to that consultation around the potential for coercion, the greater possibility of inaccurate assessment, further complications and lack of support. It is of utmost importance that women are safeguarded from coercion and abuse, that they receive accurate and effective medical care through proper assessment, that complications are minimised, and that support is provided to those who need it.

The concerns that I and others have about this kind of at-home early medical abortion are not sufficiently mitigated by the amendment, and in-person visits to a clinic or medical centre continue to be vital. Supporting the vulnerable and creating thorough and effective legislation to do so must be our priority, hence my opposition to the amendment. I conclude by repeating my honouring of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Bethell (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I join him and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Sugg for her work on women’s issues—work that I support in every way I possibly can. I think that this amendment is a useful amendment to this Bill. My noble friend Lady Sugg is right that the world is changing: science raced ahead during the pandemic, and many things that had not been tried before were tried. Clinical tools have become more sophisticated, practices are undoubtedly evolving and there are definitely lessons from the pandemic that are worth our consideration.

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