Campaigners against abortion have criticised the Minister for Health for issuing new service guidelines due to the Covid-19 emergency.

Currently, services for termination in early pregnancy require a medical practitioner to examine a pregnant woman before coming to the reasonable opinion that her pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks.

In that context, the woman is required to attend the surgery/clinical setting to have a face-to-face consultation with her doctor.

However, the Department of Health has pointed out that it may not be possible or advisable for a woman to attend a medical practitioner in person to access termination in early pregnancy.

It has issued a revised model of care which will apply for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

It provides for remote consultation with a medical practitioner for the purposes of accessing termination in early pregnancy.

Where a medical practitioner judges it to be clinically necessary, a face-to-face consultation may be held with the patient, however, it says such consultations should be kept to a minimum during the current public health emergency.

It says that providing for remote consultation will help to reduce the risk to the health of the medical practitioner, the patient involved and other patients and staff, and reduce the burden on medical practitioners.

Where it is clinically necessary to hold a face-to-face consultation, the advice is that the duration of the appointment be kept to a minimum.

The guidelines suggest a telephone call between medical practitioner and patient beforehand to cover some of the information required, if suitable.

Pro Life Campaign spokesperson Eilís Mulroy has described the guidelines as "utterly reckless".

"In the blink of an eye, the minister has done a complete about turn in order to facilitate abortions taking place during the Covid-19 lockdown," she said. 

The Health Service Executive's clinical lead for terminations of pregnancies said the interim model of care allows for a woman "to have the entirety of her abortion care without having to visit her doctor".

Dr Aoife Mullally said this "will not be the long-term model of care, because the legislation has not changed; this is just the interim model of care for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency".

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Dr Mullally said the new model is in place to "reduce the burden on doctors and reduce the need for face-to-face consultations.

"A woman or person with unplanned pregnancy can contact the MyOptions helpline on the HSE free phone line when their options will be discussed with them," she added.

"If they wish to opt for an abortion, they will be given the contact details of three different doctors in their communities and they can contact one of those to make an appointment for a telephone or video consultation."

She said the mandatory three-day wait between the two GP consultations still applies.

"Following the second consultation, an arrangement will be made for the woman to pick up the medication at the doctors' surgery, or in the event that she has Covid-19 or has to self-isolate, she can nominate a person to pick up the medication for her."

The requirement that the taking of early termination of pregnancy medication has to be under medical supervision had to be waived, Dr Mullally said, because this was the only way to reduce the risk that providers were exposed to, and to ensure that women could still access early terminations.

She said a woman is "talked through the process of taking early abortion medication with the doctor and any concerns they have will be addressed.

"Nothing will be done until the doctor and woman are confident that she knows how to take the medication and that she can also contact her doctors afterwards."