By Francesca Merlo
The President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, Bishop Hugh Gilbert, sent a powerful letter to Scotland’s Health Minister, Jeane Freeman, on 23 April. He characterises the government’s actions as the "trivialisation" of abortion.
His criticism comes shortly after the decision of Scotland’s Government to allow women to undergo an early abortion from home, after a telephone or video consultation.
Currently, early medical abortion can take place in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. It involves taking two different types of medicine. Usually, women are allowed to take the second drug at home, after having taken the first in a clinic up to two days beforehand.
However, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the previous chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, told the country’s National Health Service (NHS) boards to allow women seeking an early medical abortion to take both abortion pills at home, following a consultation by phone or video.
The Bishops react
In his letter, Bishop Gilbert describes the move, proposed on 31 March, as “deeply troubling”. He raises numerous concerns. Among them, whether a phone consultation offers the counselling necessary to undergo such a “life-changing experience”. He expresses doubt whether such consultation includes details of alternatives to the termination of the pregnancy. Bishop Gilbert also states that sending such drugs by post “trivialises” this extremely difficult procedure and that such a position seems to be “more a matter of ideology than of genuine and dispassionate concern for women’s wellbeing”.
“The drugs provided not only end the life of an unborn child but are also a risk to the health of its mother”, writes Bishop Gilbert. He explains that he finds it “profoundly depressing” to know that in this time of global pandemic “when the resources of almost every government on earth are being diverted towards the preservation of life (…) the Scottish Government continues to act to end the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, the unborn”.
A form of abuse?
Finally, “aside from the Scottish Bishops’ Conference’s absolute opposition to abortion”, Bishop Gilbert raises a “practical“ concern. He makes reference to the increasingly high number of domestic abuse cases recorded since the start of the lockdown. In light of that he asks if the government is doing anything to ensure that women are not “being coerced into an abortion”.
Around the world, since lockdown measures began, there has been a spike in domestic violence and abuse cases as, often, victims are forced to stay at home with their perpetrators.
In Scotland, concludes Bishop Gilbert, “it is far from clear how the Government proposes to set in place the prudent support procedures” necessary.