UN committee calls on UK to decriminalise abortion
In the same month we celebrated 100 years of partial female suffrage in the UK, our antiquated abortion law – passed well before women could vote – has been heavily criticised. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has published a damning report on women’s rights in Northern Ireland, finding that NI’s abortion restrictions are subjecting thousands of women and girls to “grave and systematic violations of rights”. The report recommended the urgent repeal of sections 58-59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act – a law that applies throughout the UK and threatens women who end a pregnancy without legal authorisation with life imprisonment. Our #WeTrustWomen campaign calls for this piece of legislation to be repealed – sign up here for updates.
#Repeal campaign gathers pace
South of the border, meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland is preparing for a historic referendum abortion. Irish expats are being encouraged to travel #HomeToVote this May to repeal Ireland’s draconian laws, which ban abortion unless a woman’s life is at risk. If you have travelled from the Republic of Ireland for a termination, please tell us about it (anonymously if you prefer) – your testimony will help the campaign for #repeal.
Home Office consultation closes, as 40 Days For Life resumes clinic protests
The government consultation on abortion clinic protests has now closed and they are reviewing the evidence. We were overwhelmed by the response – over 1600 people used the Back Off website to tell the Home Office what they think. Meanwhile, 40 Days For Life resumed its “vigils” across the UK on 14 February, which means 40 days of intimidation for our patients and staff. There is compelling evidence these protests cause serious distress: we urge the government to act.
Major hospital trust bans elective caesareans
Oxford University Hospitals will not offer caesareans to women on request, even if they have had a traumatic labour in the past. UK charity Birthrights has received testimonies from several women who were denied an elective caesarean, flouting NICE guidelines. We agree with Birthrights that this “denies women the individual respect and consideration they are entitled to”. Women must be given evidence-based information, and their choices must be respected.
Boots finally cuts the price of emergency contraception
Almost a year after we first wrote to them, Boots has finally reduced the cost of emergency contraception to £15.99 across all its UK stores. We are so pleased that Boots is now offering a more affordable version of this product, which gives women a second chance to avoid an unintended pregnancy. However, other barriers that prevent access to EC remain in place, including a medically unnecessary consultation. Click here to join the next phase of our campaign for swift, easy access to EC.
Government launches consultation on buffer zones
As our Back Off campaign gathers pace, the government has launched a consultation into anti-abortion clinic protests. Home Secretary Amber Rudd pledged to take action, saying, ‘It is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare’. Anybody can respond to the consultation – if you’d like to tell the government what you think, please email them using our quick online tool.
Public backlash as anti-abortion MP is appointed Vice-Chair for Women
There was public outcry in January after Maria Caulfield, the Conservative MP for Lewes who led the opposition to Diana Johnson’s decriminalisation bill last year, was appointed Conservative Vice-Chair for Women. We were incredibly disappointed by the decision, and the negative response to her appointment was reported by the Telegraph, BuzzFeed, the Sun and even the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, X-Files actress Gillian Anderson – whilst in Hollywood unveiling her Walk of Fame star – denounced the decision as “a huge, monumental, devastating step backwards.” The public reaction makes it clear: if you want to represent women, you must support decriminalisation.
New guidelines for Relationships and Sex Education
Following their decision that Relationships and Sex Education will be compulsory in English schools from 2019, the government is consulting the public on what the lessons should include. They are especially interested in views of young people, teachers and parents – if you’d like to respond, please click here for more information.
Champion of Choice
This month’s Champion is actress Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, alongside the entire cast of new drama I told my mum I was going on an RE trip. This honest, moving play tells real women’s experiences of abortion, and was broadcast on BBC2 earlier this month. Catch up on iPlayer here.
Back Off: four local councils try to stop abortion clinic protests, as the Home Office calls for a national review
Following a vote in Ealing in October, Portsmouth, Southwark and Birmingham councils have all now followed suit, voting to explore the potential for buffer zones outside local abortion clinics as a response to persistent anti-abortion activity on their doorsteps. Meanwhile, the Home Office has announced it will undertake an in-depth, national review into these protests, pledging to consider further action to protect the women accessing health services. If you have been affected by anti-abortion activity outside a clinic, please share your experience anonymously here.
Ireland: parliamentary committee votes to repeal the 8th amendment
Ireland’s Oireachtas committee has voted to repeal the 8th amendment, the constitutional ban on abortion, in a historic move ahead of next year’s abortion referendum. Ireland’s current strict abortion laws force thousands of women every year to travel to England to access basic health services, and have been condemned by UN bodies for breaching human rights. Committee members cited the evidence that huge numbers of women are resorting to illegal pills as a determining factor in the decision.
Boots fails to lower the cost of emergency contraception before the festive season
Boots has failed to lower the inflated price tag of emergency contraception in the majority of its stores, despite a letter signed by over 130 MPs, and in the knowledge that Christmas is the most common time to conceive. Share this SumOfUs video to hold them to account.
Women are choosing to have fewer children
The latest childbearing statistics from the ONS show the average family size has fallen to a record low. Women born in 1971 had an average of 1.9 children, representing a significant decrease from their mothers’ generation (born 1944) who had 2.21 children on average. Two-child families remain the most common, but the proportion of women having either one or no children was the highest in decades. There are many reasons a woman may choose to have fewer children, including economic considerations. We must ensure that all women have comprehensive, easy access to both contraceptive and abortion services, so that they can plan and achieve the size of family that is best for them.
bpas withdraws from the Public Affairs Awards
bpas has withdrawn from the Public Affairs Awards, having been nominated for Voluntary Sector Campaign of the Year, due to the decision to honour anti-abortion group Both Lives Matter with the Best Campaign in Northern Ireland award. Read our open letter here. As Birthrights CEO Rebecca Schiller wrote of Both Lives Matter: “When women’s lives and freedoms are imperilled, the publicity should always be bad”.
Champion of Choice
This month we nominate Dr Asha Kasliwal, President of the Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Health (FSRH), for their decision to join the Royal College of Midwives, British Medical Association and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in officially supporting the decriminalisation of abortion. All four of these bodies, alongside a broad coalition of charities and other groups, support the removal of criminal sanctions associated with abortion in the UK, in line with a growing national campaign.
130 MPs tell Boots to deliver on their promise
This morning more than 130 MPs sent an open letter to Boots, calling on them to fulfil their pledge to cut the price of emergency contraception. The letter, coordinated by the Shadow Minister for Health Sharon Hodgson MP, told Boots they had “failed to live up to their clear commitment to women” – and urged them to cut the price before the festive season, when many women struggle to access contraceptive services.
Pro-choice majority in parliament call on government to extend and defend abortion access
Last week Diana Johnson MP once again called for abortion to be decriminalised in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons. The following day at Westminster Hall, Rupa Huq MP made a strong case for buffer zones to be introduced outside clinics – something which has strong cross-party support, including from several party leaders. The two debates came just as a new poll from YouGov showed that, 50 years after the Abortion Act, the majority of MPs support a woman’s right to choose.
Abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland
Following the government’s announcement in June that they will fund abortion care for Northern Irish women who travel to access treatment, the Equalities Minister Justine Greening has now announced the details of the scheme, which will include a central telephone booking system and funded travel for women on low incomes. The announcement came in the same week as a Supreme Court hearing which examined whether Ireland’s abortion law breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgement is expected next year.
Family Planning Association warns of “contraceptive crisis”
The FPA has brought a petition of over 35,000 signatures to the Chancellor Philip Hammond, warning of a “contraceptive crisis” if he does not reverse cuts to contraceptive services. According to new research by the Advisory Group on Contraception, more than 1 in 3 councils have closed services in recent years. The FPA warned the cuts represent a false economy and are causing “shocking gaps in access”.
Champion of Choice
This month we nominate Scottish Minister for Health Aileen Campbell, for her decision to permit women to take misoprostol in the comfort of their home. Under the previous rules, women had to take the drug on the clinic’s premises, which meant they risked starting to miscarry on the way home and could not plan where and when the miscarriage occurred. This brings Scotland into line with standards recommended by the World Health Organisation. We hope that England and Wales may follow.
Buffer zones: #EalingMakesHistory in landmark vote
In a historic decision, Ealing councillors voted overwhelmingly to introduce a buffer zone outside the local Marie Stopes clinic, to prevent anti-choice activists from protesting in front of its entrance. Women have reported being distressed and scared by the protesters, who call patients ‘mum’ as they enter and tell them they’ll be haunted by their baby. The vote was in response to a campaign by local pro-choice group Sister Supporter. In the packed-out meeting on Tuesday evening, not a single councillor opposed the motion.
The Abortion Act 50 years on
This October marks #50YearsOfChoice: it’s exactly 50 years since abortion was made legal in certain circumstances (although not fully decriminalised) in England, Wales and Scotland. The 1967 Abortion Act was undoubtedly an enormous step forwards for women, and solved the problem of backstreet abortions which had been the leading cause of maternal death. But 86-year-old activist Diane Munday, who was instrumental in achieving legal reform, says the 1967 Act was “a job only half done”.
Decriminalisation of abortion
Munday is campaigning for abortion to be fully decriminalised – something which has never felt more urgent in light of a worrying study published last month, which shows that British women are turning to illegal abortion pills because they cannot access clinics in the UK. We are therefore so pleased that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – a professional body of women’s healthcare doctors – has voted overwhelmingly to support the decriminalisation of abortion, joining the Royal College of Midwives and the British Medical Association.
Extreme morning sickness
bpas co-presented a conference this month on Hyperemesis Gravidarium (HG), to discuss the latest research and treatment options for severe pregnancy sickness. HG has hit the headlines recently because the Duchess of Cambridge is suffering, but despite the publicity it seems women in the UK are still not getting the most effective treatment. We believe all UK women deserve a royal standard of care.
bpas wins Charity of the Year
bpas has been named Charity of the Year (income over £10m category) at the “charity Oscars”, the Charity Times Awards. Bpas was praised for effective advocacy – campaigns this year have secured a 50% reduction in the price of emergency contraception and government-funded abortion care for women who travel from Northern Ireland – and for maintaining the quality of services in the face of sudden increased demand. Here’s the team with the award.
Champion of Choice
This month we nominate Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, in light of their support for decriminalisation. Thank you Lesley!
Jacob Rees-Mogg ‘completely opposed’ to abortion in any circumstances
Jacob Rees-Mogg provoked understandable outrage yesterday after stating on Good Morning Britain that he is ‘completely opposed’ to abortion, even in cases of rape. This is of course completely out-of-step with public opinion – 70% of the population, including 61% of Catholics, in Great Britain now support abortion on request – a more liberal framework than we currently have in this country. His extreme stance will come as no surprise to those familiar with his voting record, but to many others ‘the Honourable Member for the 18th Century’ may now seem a little less charming.
Boots issues two legal warnings to bpas over the Just Say Non! campaign
We welcomed Boots’ public apology in July for their suggestion that dropping the price of emergency contraception would ‘incentivise inappropriate use’ (a suggestion that caused consternation among MPs and general bemusementamong healthcare professionals). Disappointingly though, Boots were slow to take action to cut the price, instead choosing to use their time and resources to issue two legal warnings to bpas. Their claims that they received ‘personal abuse’ via our online tool grossly misrepresented the messages, which included personal accounts from women who have struggled to afford EC in the past, emails from GPs who advise women when their normal contraception has failed, and messages from pharmacists, one of whom described a woman breaking down in tears upon learning the price of EC.
Boots finally agreed they will provide a more affordable product – but only after we made their legal warnings public. Nevertheless, their decision to join Superdrug, Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Well and Lloyds in dropping the price is a welcome step. We hope will make a real difference to women – and their wallets – going forward. This isn’t the end of the campaign, however, and we will be in touch with next steps soon.
Reproductive rights for disabled women
Bpas has co-hosted an event with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to draw attention to the obstacles disabled women face in accessing reproductive healthcare services. The intersection between reproductive rights and disability is too often only discussed in relation to cases of fetal anomaly (particularly recently, in light of Lord Shinkwin’s attempts to restrict women’s choices in such circumstances). Consequently disabled women’s access to vital education and healthcare services has been neglected, and the additional barriers they face either in avoiding pregnancy or trying to conceive have not been addressed. Speakers at our one-day conference included artist Alison Lapper, sexual health specialist Dr Jane Dickson, Guardian journalist Dr Frances Ryan and Professor Claire de Than, Chair of the Sexual Health and Disability Alliance. The full conference report is available here.
My Body, My Life: telling real stories of abortion
We were delighted to contribute to the Open University’s My Body, My Lifeproject – a collection of abortion stories from real women in their own words, which are shared online, in a booklet, and as part of a travelling pop-up exhibition. The project encourages women to talk about their experiences, emotions, and decisions, to show others they are not alone and break the silence which still surrounds this most common of gynaecological procedures.
The exhibition takes the form of a pop-up ‘clothes shop’ – pictures on Instagram– and had a successful first run at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Future locations include Oxford in November, followed by Belfast and London. To read the collection of stories, watch videos and share your own story, visit mybody-mylife.org.
Anti-abortionists have a new tool in their armoury… a scented candle
An anti-choice ‘crisis pregnancy’ centre in Belfast has suggested that women may change their minds when considering an abortion if they smell a baby-scented candle in the waiting room. Stanton Healthcare waxed lyrical about the candle on Facebook, posting:
‘[We] would recommend to all crisis pregnancy centre’s (sic) the new baby powder Yankee Candle. It just smells like a new born (sic) baby. #lovelife #lovebabies #protectthemboth #loveyankeecandles’
This frankly ridiculous attempt to manipulate women did not go unnoticed online, with one woman commenting, ‘Do these candles come in the scents of shame, stigma or social isolation?’ Several negative comments were subsequently deleted by the centre. Their waiting rooms may smell lovely, but this new strategy reeks of desperation.
Champion of Choice nomination: Jess Phillips MP
This month we nominate Jess Phillips, chair of the Women’s PLP, for her tireless support of women’s reproductive choices and for coordinating a letter to Boots in support of our campaign for cheaper emergency contraception. Thank you, Jess!
Tesco joins Superdrug in slashing the price of Emergency Contraception
Since we launched the Just Say Non! campaign calling on major retailers to lower the price of emergency contraception, both Superdrug and Tesco have halved their prices to £13.50. Sadly, Boots has refused to do the same, stating that they are concerned about being accused “incentivising inappropriate use” and public disapproval. This is insulting, scientifically unfounded, and out of step with public opinion. Click here to tell Boots to review their decision, and “just say non” to this sexist surcharge.
Update: On 21st July, Boots issued a statement saying they were “truly sorry” and looking into cheaper alternatives. So far they have not reduced the price, despite their competitors Superdrug, Tesco and LloydsPharmacy all dropping theirs to £13.50. Click here to keep up the pressure on Boots.
Government grants funded abortions to Northern Irish women who travel
On 29th June, the government announced its decision to provide fully funded abortion care for Northern Irish women who travel to England for treatment. The announcement followed an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, which was tabled by Stella Creasy MP and supported by over 100 MPs from across the political parties and of course bpas. This is a significant step forwards for the women of Northern Ireland but not the end goal, and we will continue to campaign for abortion care to be accessible in Northern Ireland itself. The full govt announcement is online here. Thank you to everybody who emailed their MP – it made a huge difference!
British Medical Association votes to decriminalise abortion
Doctors from the British Medical Association have voted overwhelmingly in support of a change in the law to decriminalise abortion. The BMA’s medical ethics committee chair, Dr John Chisholm, said, “doctors were clear that abortion should be treated as a medical issue rather than a criminal one.” We couldn’t agree more. Click here to join our We Trust Women campaign to decriminalise abortion across the UK.
Over half of the women we saw last year used contraception
Of the women that came to bpas for a termination in 2016, over half (51.2%)were using contraception when they conceived, with 1 in 4 women using the most effective methods – either a hormonal contraceptive or a long acting reversible contraceptive (LARC). Moreover, women using hormonal methods (including LARCs) were more likely to present at a later gestation, as these methods can mask pregnancy symptoms and therefore delay detection. These figures remind us that no form of contraception is 100% effective: women will always need abortion to be available as a back-up when their normal birth control method lets them down.
The Abortion Act: 50 years on
Fifty years after the 1967 Abortion Act was passed, how well does it serve women today? In the week of the Act’s 50th anniversary, bpas will co-present a two-day conference in London to examine its impact, its shortcomings, and the scope for future reform. You can find more information and tickets online here.
Champion of Choice nomination: Stella Creasy MP
This month we nominate Stella Creasy MP, for securing government-funded abortion services in England for Northern Irish women. Thank you, Stella!
Theresa May has called a General Election
The UK general election on 8th June could change the face of Parliament. We need to ensure that our next MPs – whatever their party – hear the voice of the pro-choice majority and commit to supporting a woman’s right to choose. So we have teamed up with the UK Friends of Planned Parenthood to launch My Pledge Her Choice – an online tool you can use to tell your parliamentary candidates to commit to three key pledges:
1. Protect clinic access and funding for all UK women – including those in Northern Ireland
2. Oppose parliamentary attacks on abortion rights
3. Support further moves to decriminalise abortion, in line with the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2017
Women’s rights are on the ballot. We must ensure that our next politicians defend – and extend – women’s reproductive rights. Anything less is not good enough. Email you candidates here – it takes one minute and all you need is your postcode. You can also follow us on twitter here.
Does it matter what our politicians think of abortion?
As the UK election draws closer, the main party leaders’ views on abortion have started to face scrutiny. But do politicians’ personal views matter? bpas’ Director of External Affairs, Clare Murphy, argues not necessarily. What matters is whether they would let their personal convictions stand in the way of a woman’s ability to act on her own.
Irish Citizens’ Assembly calls for change
The Irish Citizens’ Assembly has called for a drastic change to Ireland’s abortion law in a landmark vote. Currently Irish law, which is the strictest of any European country, only permits abortion when a woman’s life is at risk. Women are forced to travel to England for treatment at huge personal and financial cost – or use abortion pills purchased online, risking criminal prosecution. The Citizens’ Assembly has now voted overwhelmingly for constitutional reform, recommending not only that abortion should be legalised in Ireland, but also that it should be accessible regardless of a woman’s reason. Irish writer Grainne Maguire described the vote as ‘more liberal than anyone thought possible’. Whether politicians will act on these recommendations, however, remains to be seen. We urge them to do so.
New maternity rights campaigns
UK charity Birthrights has launched a new campaign this month, which aims to hold NHS Trusts to account if they don’t allow mothers to opt for a caesarean section. They explain in their press release, “The reasons cited by women trying to access caesareans for non-medical reasons include physical damage from a previous vaginal birth, extreme fear of childbirth, emotional trauma after a previously difficult birth or experience of sexual violence or other violent trauma. […] Birthrights wants to hold to account Trusts that do not give women the individual consideration and respect they are entitled to”.
Meanwhile, Mumsnet has launched a new campaign called ‘Better Postnatal Care: Aftercare, not Afterthought’. Their aim is to focus on several key areas of postnatal care including women’s experiences in hospitals on postnatal wards, maternal mental health, breastfeeding advice and birth injury support. The announcement comes as the Observer featured a harrowing personal account of childbirth and post-traumatic stress disorder, which highlighted the failings of some support services.
Policing pregnancy: alcohol guidelines causing unnecessary worry
This month it emerged that alcohol guidelines for pregnant women may be causing more harm than good as, together with academics and women’s rights advocates, we warned that the official advice to abstain from drinking altogether goes too far, causing needless anxiety. The current advice that even low levels of alcohol can damage a pregnancy is not supported by robust evidence. To overstate the dangers in such a way betrays a mistrust of women and their ability to understand risk, and causes needless alarm, with some women reporting they felt so anxious that they considered aborting a wanted pregnancy, for fear of having damaged the foetus. We discussed pregnancy surveillance, judgement and guilt earlier this month at our conference at Canterbury University, entitled “Policing Pregnancy: who should be a mother?”.
Champions in the news
This month we congratulate Dr Patricia Lohr, bpas’ Medical Director, for her address to the Citizens’ Assembly in Ireland. Lohr presented to the Assembly on the legal framework around abortion and how this impacts on Irish women’s experience of abortion care. You can watch her presentation online here. Well done, Patricia!
‘Tampon tax’ grant awarded to anti-abortion group
This weekend, it emerged that the government has awarded the anti-abortion organisation Life a grant of £250,000 from the so-called Tampon Tax Fund – a fund which was supposedly ring-fenced for charities that work to improve the lives of vulnerable women and girls. Life, who received one of the largest grants from the fund, is a group that actively campaigns to end women’s access to legal abortion, whose unregulated counselling services have been found to be misinforming women, and which has described abortion in cases of rape as a “death sentence”. You can email the government to ask that they review the grant here: it takes just one minute.
MPs vote to decriminalise abortion
On 13th March, the first bill in 50 years to improve our abortion law was passed in the House of Commons. Labour MP Diana Johnson tabled the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill, which proposed the decriminalisation of abortion in England and Wales up to 24 weeks.
The law must be overhauled if we are to protect women from harsh criminal penalties and achieve a standard of abortion care fit for women in the twenty first century – as evidenced by this recent study from the University of Kent. By voting in favour of the bill, MPs in Westminster sent a strong message that they agree.
The bill in its current form cannot progress because the present parliamentary session is coming to an end. However, we will continue to champion the case for progressive abortion law reform in the next session.
52% of men in USA don’t think they have benefited from contraception – 100% of women shake their heads
According to a recent survey conducted in the USA, 52 percent of men said that they have not benefited from women having affordable birth control. This is quite frankly baffling. As the brilliant Rebecca Reid argued in her take down of the results, contraception has played a key role in the progress we have made towards gender equality, enabling women to remain in the workforce and in education if they so choose – contraception is “in short, a miracle.” It is astonishing that so many men do not recognise that.
Police crackdown on abortion pills in Northern Ireland
On International Women’s Day, police in Northern Ireland carried out a series of raids in search for illegal abortion pills. According to the Independent, the raids took place at activists’ homes and workplaces while they were attending a pro-choice rally. The police crackdown on abortion pills – which have been deemed safe by the World Health Organization but are still illegal in Northern Ireland – is deeply troubling. Bpas, alongside a coalition of other charities, has been granted permission to intervene in the ongoing prosecution of a mother who bought abortion pills for her young daughter. We will of course keep you updated on the outcome of this case.
Champion of Choice in the news
Diane Munday, a life-long campaigner for abortion rights, has given a powerful interview to the Independent about the horrific reality of having an illegal abortion in the 1960s. You can read her story here.
Champion of Choice nomination
This month we nominate Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Hull North, for her Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill to decriminalise abortion. You can watch her incredible House of Commons speech here, and read her piece explaining why she proposed this bill here