Ireland: first country to allow telemedicine for abortion due to Covid-19 pandemic

Photo: Minister for Health Simon Harris

Thearticle opens: “Doctors and women’s groups are concerned that timelyaccess to abortion services could be compromised during the coronavirusoutbreak.”

Women’s groups said: “The legal requirement that a woman seeking an early medical abortion(before 12 weeks) must make two GP visits, three days apart, is“irreconcilable” with current public health advice to avoid all but essentialtravel”.

With some doctors reporting “difficulties”providing abortion services, women’s health organisations said the Minister forHealthmust provide direction to allow consultations over the phone. Theysaid travel for an abortion after 12 weeks [to the UK mainly] must beclassified as “essential travel” during the crisis as well. In a letter to theMinister, six organisations, including the National Women’s Council of Ireland(NWCI) and the National Traveller Women’s Forum, called for “urgent measures”.

“Mandating two face-to-face appointments is not inalignment with government policy to restrict travel and social interactions,”they wrote. “It poses risks to patients and staff of transmitting COVID-19 andreduces availability of providers, as it precludes those providers who areself-isolating but well from providing the service whilst working remotely.”

They call for “legislative or other measures toenable abortion services to continue during the COVID-19 outbreak” and to “makeprovision for remote consultation in accordance with public health guidance andhome administration of both abortion medications (mifepristone andmisoprostol)”.

Unlike other health ministers we can name, such asUK Secretary of State Matt Hancock, who announced earlier this week that this couldalso happen in the UK – and then did a U-turn some hours later and withdrew thepolicy change after it had gone around the world – Simon Harris took the pointand went into action.

Congratulations to Simon Harris, to the abortionproviders and the abortion rights movement of Ireland for implementing this ina timely way. As far as we know, they are the first country to do so in responseto the pandemic.

Mr Harrisreported that health officials and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) were“working together with someurgency to revise the model of care for termination of pregnancy services” sothat “only …for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic… remote consultationwith a medical practitioner will be permissible”.

OK, for the moment, only for the duration of thepandemic… but a great start, critical for women’s and doctors’ health duringthis time. [Editor’s note: Maybe by thetime the pandemic ends, it will be clear that it was an idea whose time hascome anyway, and not just for abortions…

I thoughtthat was it, but glancing through this Twitter feed #COVID19ireland, I found aconversation that began with a post from Paul O’Donoghue, reporter for the TimesIE that says: “…this may get a bit lost. But the governmenthas just nationalised the health service. All private hospital staff are nowworking for the Health & Safety Executive. That. Is. Extraordinary.” (24March 2020) Further posts try to clarify that this is temporary, or that it mayjust be they are contracting their services, not taking them over.. and morepossible explanations. But one way or the other, it’s extraordinary.]

SOURCES: IrishTimes, by Kitty Harris, 27 March 2020. Photo: PA ; #COVID19ireland