In the UK, providers of abortion services must comply with the Required Standard Operating Procedures (“the RSOPs”) set out in this document issued by the Department of Health and Social Care.
RSOP12 details the information which must be provided to the woman, and how: Women must be given impartial, accurate and evidence-based information (verbal and written) delivered neutrally and covering the alternatives to abortion – adoption and motherhood.
On March 25th, 2020, in response to a written question about counselling for women considering abortion, Helen Whately gave the following reply on behalf of the DHSC: For abortions provided by independent sector providers must meet the Required Standard Operating Procedures (RSOPs) set out in the Department’s Procedures for the Approval of Independent Sector Places for the Termination of Pregnancy (Abortion). The RSOPs require that all women requesting an abortion should be offered the opportunity to discuss their options and choices with a trained counsellor and this offer should be regularly repeated. A trained pregnancy counsellor is someone trained to Diploma level or equivalent. Counselling must be non-directive and non-judgemental and should not create barriers or delays. Counsellors should undergo continuous professional development and training similar to other professionals.
On its website, in a section titled Unwanted pregnancy: your choices, BPAS says: We will talk with you about your thoughts and feelings regarding the pregnancy. This discussion is focused completely on your needs and options available to you. Initially you will be seen on your own to talk about the pregnancy and about your options, which are to continue the pregnancy and arrange for adoption or fostering; or continue the pregnancy and become a parent; or end the pregnancy with abortion.
Now that women are accessing early medical abortion services remotely, it seems even more important that service providers continue to comply with RSOP12, and start the consultation with a discussion about all of the options open to the woman presenting.
The ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection and abortion care’ guidelines issued by RCOG starts with “Woman requests abortion” and follows on with “Offer remote consultation”. It will be important that during this remote consultation the provider ensures that the woman has had time to consider her options, that all of her questions have been adequately addressed, and that she can give her informed consent.