All women accessing abortion services in England should be able to choose between a medical or surgical termination, the NHS's official advisory body has said.
All women should also be able to access abortion services without the need for a referral from a GP, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended in its first ever guidance on abortion.
NICE said that the guidance, which it has developed with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), is designed to "improve the organisation of termination of pregnancy services, and make it easier for women to access them".
NICE said that women in England currently face a lack of consistency: while most abortion services allow women to self-refer, some hospitals still require a referral from a GP.
In its draft guidance, NICE advises that GP referrals should be phased out entirely because it can be difficult for women to get prompt appointments.
In addition, NICE says there is evidence that "women may face negative attitudes from healthcare professionals" which "makes it harder to get referrals for termination of pregnancy".
NICE also recommends that NHS clinical commissioners should consider introducing upfront funding for women who may not be able to afford to travel to abortion services.
Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said in a news release: “Choosing to terminate a pregnancy is an important part of reproductive health for many women, which is why it’s essential that providers are able to offer consistent support and advice.
“Integrating and streamlining services should help improve access for all women, leading to shorter waiting times and allowing earlier terminations. This provides multiple benefits to the woman, including being able to have a medical termination at home.”
Professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, added: “These guidelines will help to address significant barriers that women experience across the country, by reducing waiting times and making it easier for them to access services. It’s also absolutely vital that more healthcare professionals are trained in this key area of women’s healthcare to ensure services are sustainable in the long-term.”
The draft guidelines have been welcomed by abortion services charity Marie Stopes, which said that the new proposals "will help to improve services and address some of the barriers women face accessing abortion care".