Abortion rules have been relaxed after the government u-turned to let women take pills at home without travelling to a clinic.

Last week there was an announcement that the rules would be relaxed while the country grappled with coronavirus.

It stayed on the official website for four hours before being deleted with an explanation saying: “There will be no changes to abortion regulations”.

But the Department for Health has now reverted to the original policy to help women who need an abortion, but cannot access a clinic due to the national lockdown. 

The move will be made on a temporary basis, limited for two years or until the coronavirus crisis is over.

It applies for medical abortions up to the tenth week of pregnancy. 

Women will be sent the two pills required for an early termination in the post following a telephone or e-consultation with a doctor.

Claire Murphy, the director of external affairs at British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), welcomed the change, she told the Guardian: “This is a very safe and simple measure that will dramatically improve women’s access to care at this time of national crisis. We’re really pleased that the government has acted on this. It will make a huge difference to women’s health and wellbeing in the current climate.”

She said that women in self-isolation and those with health conditions who experience an unwanted pregnancy were being forced to make “completely unnecessary” trips to access early abortion care.

“Women in coerced relationships simply can’t live the house secretly in the current climate, in the way that they used to be able to. These women are effectively trapped at home,” she said.

BPAS has had to close more than a quarter of its services following a government lockdown.

“Women are travelling all across the country to find clinics that are open, they are waiting in crowded NHS waiting rooms, putting their own health at risk and of course those around them and those who care for them,” Murphy said.

Jonathan Lord, the medical director for Marie Stopes UK said: “The government’s decision to allow women in England to take both sets of early medical abortion pills at home during the Covid-19 crisis, shows that they value both women’s health and that of hardworking abortion care staff, who have continued to deliver essential healthcare, despite a global health pandemic.”

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Lord added that Marie Stopes stood in “full solidarity” with women and girls in Northern Ireland seeking the same protection. “This would not have happened without such a mobilised and quick campaign from health experts, campaigners and journalists alike, that made it impossible for the government to deny the medical and moral force of the case for early abortion care at home.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Public safety and continued access to key services is our priority during this difficult period.

“From today, women who need an abortion up to ten weeks and can’t access a clinic can use abortion pills at home.

“This measure will be on a temporary basis and must follow a telephone or e-consultation with a clinician.”