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The election result: what does it mean for reproductive choice?
We had a brilliant response to our My Pledge Her Choice campaign, with over 300 candidates from across all the main political parties signing up. A huge thank you to everybody who took part. We’re also delighted that so many pro-choice advocates from across the political spectrum have retained their seats, and we look forward to hearing from pro-reform Northern Irish MPs Stephen Farry and Claire Hanna too.
With so many brand new MPs in the Commons, we have plenty of work to do in the new year to engage them and ensure they represent the pro-choice majority. Stay tuned to hear how you can help.
“Better for Women”: new report from the RCOG calls for abortion to be decriminalised
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has called for abortion to be decriminalised in a new report, “Better for Women”, which also recommends better access to emergency contraception alongside several other measures to improve women’s health. You can read it here.
Improving access to the pill – can you help?
The MHRA is looking for patient representatives who currently use oral contraception and are over 18 to take part in a stakeholder meeting about improving access to contraceptive pills. It is a one-day commitment, with expenses paid. For more information please email email@example.com.
Stock up on emergency contraception this Christmas
Online pharmacy Dr Fox is now selling emergency contraception for just £3 – the lowest price we’ve seen. This illustrates just how cheaply the progesterone-only product can be produced and that women are still being ripped off by inflated prices in high street pharmacies.
With Christmas just around the corner, we’re recommending women buy emergency contraception to keep in the cupboard just in case – especially because we know lots of women can struggle to access their normal contraception over the festive period. You can purchase emergency contraception for £3 here.
We’re charity of the month in the British Journal of Midwifery
We are very proud to be the British Journal of Midwifery’s charity of the month. This issue’s “Charity Spotlight” feature highlights the tireless work our midwives do every day for women, whether it’s providing care in our clinics or advocating for legal reform. The piece is behind a pay wall, but here’s a quote from it by bpas midwife Cheryl, along with a picture of our staff accepting a BJM award last year!
“Midwives have never sat back and accepted inequalities in healthcare provision. It is within our gift and our duty as advocates for women to push for change, to say that we trust women to make their own decisions, and that we will support them with the safest, highest quality care available. We will always be there to hold their hand, but with the other hand we must break the glass ceiling.”
– Cheryl, Midwife and Associate Director, bpas
Champion of Choice
And finally, our last champion of choice this year is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who recently spoke to the BBC about how restrictive abortion laws impact the poorest women. Watch a clip here.
Buffer zones: flawed consultation ignored evidence
This week a coalition of medical bodies and charities, led by bpas, is urging the Home Secretary to look again at the issue of clinic protests, in light of new evidence that the previous consultation was flawed.
Since the Home Office’s review last year (and subsequent decision not to intervene), 34 clinics across the country have had protesters outside their gates. Now, FOI documents have revealed that the Home Office’s final report completely ignored the evidence they received from medical colleges, and underplayed and misrepresented women’s experiences. Worst of all, a civil servant was recorded as stating, “there is need to be seen to do something but [we] don’t want to actually do something.”
Northern Ireland’s abortion law breaches human rights
In a ruling that surprised no one, the High Court in Belfast has ruled that Northern Ireland’s abortion law is incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations. The case was brought by Sarah Ewart, who pursued the case for years after she was denied a termination in Northern Ireland.
The ruling came just in time, since Northern Ireland’s criminal sanctions for abortion will fall away later this month (unless the NI Executive reconvenes). We blogged for the Huffpost about what this all means for women in Northern Ireland.
Standing up for single parents
Last week we challenged NHS South East London on their policy to deny funded IVF services to single women because single parents “do not give the best outcome for the child.” Alongside charities Birthrights, IVF Fairness, IVF Babble and the Dovecote, we wrote an open letter urging them to reconsider this policy, which stigmatises single-parent families and contravenes NICE guidelines. Read our letter here.
Breastfeeding and the environment
We have teamed up with Feed UK and Dr Ellie Cannon to challenge a recent article published in the BMJ, which presented breastfeeding as an “environmental imperative”. Here’s an excerpt from our joint response, and you can read the full version here.
“By focusing on the suggested environmental benefits of breastfeeding over the use of infant formula the authors fail to hold the correct people to account for the issue – the producers – and instead place the onus on consumers, who are predominantly women. The responsibility for reducing whatever global climate burden is posed by infant formula should not come at the expense of women’s reproductive rights, which are inclusive of how women use their breasts.”
World Contraception Day
We celebrated World Contraception Day last month by calling for emergency contraception to be sold straight from the pharmacy shelf to improve access. Emergency contraception is a very safe but currently under-utilised – and stigmatised – resource. We blogged about why we should do everything we can to facilitate swift access to this safe, time-sensitive second chance to avoid an unwanted pregnancy – and not view it as a “marker of irresponsibility”.
Risk in pregnancy: what does it all mean?
The last few weeks have seen several headlines warning of the dangers everyday things can pose in pregnancy, ranging from taking paracetamol to feeling stressed. But how true are these headlines, and what does it all really mean? In our latest blog for the WRISK project, “What does ‘risk’ in pregnancy mean to you?”, Peter Tennant and Tomasina Stacey share their research on what risk means, and the misconceptions surrounding it.
Champions of Choice
Writer and advocate Claire has written a new play, inspired by her own experience of abortion. You can read her story here or buy tickets here.
‘A Womb of One’s Own’ runs from 19-23 November at the Pleasance, London.
Countdown to abortion rights in Northern Ireland
This week the government has confirmed that Northern Ireland’s criminal sanctions for abortion will fall away on 22nd October if no Assembly is formed. This means that, from next month, no woman will face criminal charges for ending her own pregnancy, and the ongoing prosecution of a mother who bought abortion pills for her young teenage daughter will at last be dropped. We are very hopeful that NI women will soon be free to make decisions about their own pregnancies, without risk of prosecution.
Buffer zones: legal challenge dismissed
The UK’s first ever buffer zone has been upheld by the Court of Appeal following a legal challenge. The buffer zone was introduced by Ealing Council last year after decades of anti-abortion activity outside a local clinic. The emphatic judgment confirmed that the buffer zone is legal, necessary and proportionate, based on substantial evidence that women’s privacy “was being very seriously invaded”.
We welcome this decision, but elsewhere protesters continue to target clinics up and down the country. We will continue to call for a nationwide solution so that women can access abortion services privately and free from intimidation, wherever they are.
Stress in pregnancy and personality disorders
This week, a slew of alarming headlines suggested that children exposed to stress in pregnancy are ten times more likely to develop a personality disorder. But is this a fair reflection of the science? The WRISK team at bpas investigated and, sure enough, all was not as it seemed. The bottom line? Even if you are severely stressed in pregnancy, the study still shows you are unlikely to have a child with a personality disorder. Click here for a handy guide to the communication of risk, courtesy of the latest WRISK blog.
Women deserve better when it comes to IVF
Access to NHS fertility treatment is diminishing rapidly. Last month saw a fifth NHS group announce the indefinite suspension of fertility services, while a different NHS body was found to be banning single women from IVF on the basis they’re a “burden on society”. Yes, really.
Meanwhile, some private clinics have been profiteering from women’s anxieties, offering unproven add-on treatments to desperate women and couples at extortionate prices. Last month we called out London’s GetADrip clinics who were charging £250 for a so-called “fertility drip”. The drip has since been withdrawn, but the industry is rife with similar products. Women deserve better.
Emergency contraception and stigma
Emergency contraception (EC) is a significantly under-used resource, due to a combination of access barriers and stigma. In a new paper published in the journal Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, our Director of External Affairs Clare Murphy explained how the narrative around EC as a “marker of irresponsible female sexuality” has paved the way for a clunky clinical framework which places obstacles in women’s way, increasing the perception that EC is a risky product that shouldn’t be used. We are calling for EC to be available straight from the pharmacy shelf, to increase women’s access to this safe and essential second chance to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.
Are you passionate about women’s rights in pregnancy and maternity care? The fantastic Birthrights charity is seeking an interim Chief Executive – click the link for more details!
Alabama threatens abortion doctors with 99 years in prison
Today marks one year since the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal its abortion ban, but women living in Northern Ireland can still face life imprisonment for ending a pregnancy.
Since the news from Alabama broke last week, Northern Ireland’s law has once again been in the spotlight, and almost 30,000 people have emailed their MP to demand action. Please help us to keep up the pressure by emailing your MP and sharing the campaign with your family and friends. The time is #NowForNI.
Working with women in prisons
Our contraceptive counselling & well-woman advice service in Europe’s largest women’s prison, HMP Bronzefield, has been listed as a finalist for an RCNi Nurse Award. Our service provides confidential, non-judgemental counselling & education to enhance women’s wellbeing & rehabilitation.
Here’s a round-up of what we’ve been working on lately:
- Preventing clinic protests: Anti-abortion activism targeted at clinics is on the rise in the UK. We are working to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics to protect women and staff from intimidation and harassment. So far two buffer zones have been introduced, and more are in the pipeline.
- Fighting the two-child benefits cap: The two-child benefits cap pushes families into poverty and impacts women’s reproductive decisions. We are working with other UK charities to fight it. Read our briefing here.
- Just Say Non: Our campaign for accessible emergency contraception has seen prices slashed across major pharmacy chains. We’re now working to make it available straight from the pharmacy shelf, without a mandatory consultation – as already happens in the USA, Canada, and many European countries.
- Improving access to contraception: We’re working with pharmacists nationwide to improve access to several methods of contraception, including the injection.
- Now for NI: The campaign to deliver abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland. Email your MP today.
- We Trust Women campaign: Under a law from 1861 any woman, anywhere in the UK, can go to prison for ending a pregnancy without the permission of two doctors. MPs support change, but we need the opportunity to make it happen. We are considering several legislative routes, including one based on the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill.
- Wrisk: Women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy are bombarded with public health messages, for example about what to eat, drink, how much they should weigh, and what medications they should or shouldn’t take. The WRISK projectaims to understand and improve the communication of risk in pregnancy, to make things better for women.
- Decriminalisation further afield: We’ve been working with pro-choice campaigners and the governments of the Isle of Man and Gibraltar to change their laws outlawing abortion and help them provide care for their citizens. We’re pleased to have launched a service for women from the Isle of Man this week and we’re continuing to work with them to help them deliver high quality, local services as soon as possible. We’re also looking forward to Gibraltar who will be debating changing their law in Parliament next week.
Emergency contraception home delivery service launched…for £45
Emergency contraception brand EllaOne has just launched a 3-hour home delivery service… for the eye-watering price of £45. Don’t get us wrong, EllaOne has done a lot right here: their #MyMorningAfter campaign brilliantly calls out the stigma around EC, and we applaud them for giving women the option to have EC swiftly delivered without having to undergo an embarrassing – and clinically unnecessary – consultation. But at £45, how accessible is this service really? Surely if women have to pay £45 to access EC without humiliation, something’s gone badly wrong. We want to see a completely new system where EC can be sold straight from the shelf – as already happens in the USA, Canada and many European countries – without a consultation, and for under a tenner.
Contradictory messages on fertility cause unnecessary worry
New data published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has revealed just how much we worry about our fertility – with over half of women, including nearly a quarter of young women, reporting concern. It is often suggested that women are unaware of their fertility decline and consequently risk ‘leaving it too late’, but the high level of anxiety in this study suggests otherwise.
Women are aware of all the things that may affect their fertility, from their age and weight to contraception and STIs. It’s time to acknowledge that overstating these risks is harmful too. At bpas we see women who thought they were infertile due to having had chlamydia, or who stopped taking the pill because of (unfounded) fertility concerns – only to end up with an unplanned pregnancy. Women deserve responsible, evidence-based communication on this subject, and nothing less.
Activists march for NI women’s rights on St Patrick’s Day
In the same month it emerged that Northern Irish women are struggling to access terminations south of the border, Irish and UK activists marched in London on St Patrick’s Day to call for change. We were proud to join the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Sister Supporter, MPs Diana Johnson and Stella Creasy, the cast of Derry Girls and many others to call for an urgent change to Northern Ireland’s abortion law, which currently sees 28 women per week travel to England for treatment. We cannot let this continue. The time is #NowForNI.
Champion of Choice
Our champion of choice this month is Dr David Paintin, who passed away on 30th March. He was a committed obstetrician/gynaecologist and an inspiring advocate for women’s reproductive freedom across several decades, including in the 1960s before the Abortion Act was passed. He was also chair of the Birth Control Trust and a trustee here for many years. He’ll be sorely missed by all at bpas.
Richmond Council introduces the UK’s second abortion clinic buffer zone
In good news, this week Richmond Council has become the second UK local authority to introduce an abortion clinic buffer zone. Our clinic in Richmond has had protesters outside on a daily basis since 2014, disturbing local residents and intimidating clients. We’re delighted that Richmond Council has taken this strong decision to stand up for the women and ensure they can access health services in private and free from intimidation.
Understanding risk – how do we know the right path?
Our WRISK project continues to examine how risks associated with pregnancy are communicated. This month’s guest blog is a brave personal account from Clare, who temporarily came off her antidepressants following advice from her doctor. She shares her own individual story of navigating simplistic, often conflicting medical advice, and eventually finding the right path for her.
Meanwhile a ‘myth-busting’ piece on hormonal contraception may have caused alarm by stating that the pill increases the risk of breast cancer by 38%. This is an example of when the relative risk of harm is presented, and the article failed to clarify that the increased absolute risk is still low. Statistics like this can cause undue concern or panic when they are not properly communicated.
Derry Girls join march for reform in Northern Ireland
28 women marched to Westminster with suitcases to demand change in Northern Ireland, representing the 28 women who are forced to travel from Northern Ireland every week to access abortion care. The 28 included four MPs and two members of the Derry Girls cast, Nicola Coughlan and Siobhan McSweeney. We were proud to join them to march and deliver a petition, organised by Amnesty International, which had over 62,000 signatures.
BBC finally agrees to signpost women to abortion information
The BBC has finally agreed to signpost women to NHS abortion information via its Action Line website, having initially refused to do so on the grounds it was too “contentious”. The issue arose following an episode of Call the Midwife in which a woman died following a backstreet abortion. After an overwhelming response from the public, an open letter from women’s healthcare bodies and a letter signed by nearly 100 MPs, the BBC changed its stance.
Champion of Choice
Our champion this month is the Royal College of GPs, which hasvoted to support the decriminalisation of abortion, joining the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare, and the British Medical Association.
Stella Creasy MP holds the government to account over Northern Ireland’s abortion law
This week Stella Creasy MP tabled an urgent question in the House of Commons to press the government regarding Northern Ireland’s cruel abortion law. Her question came hot on the heels of a Sunday Times investigation, which revealed the government has purposely restricted the scope of its long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill in order to avoid abortion reform in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s current law sees four women a week travel overseas for treatment and many more seek illegal abortion pills online. Statistics released this month showed that only 12 women were able to access abortion care in Northern Ireland last year – the lowest number on record. Creasy’s plea that the government should “put DV first – not the DUP” garnered support from across the House with MPs from all the major parties lending their voices. Her question came at the end of a good month for abortion rights more widely: the home use of misoprostol has finally been introduced in England, and the Isle of Man has decriminalised abortion, making their law more progressive than anywhere in the UK.
bpas calls out the government’s two-child benefits cap
We welcomed the government’s announcement that they have scrapped plans to extend the two-child benefits cap to families with children born before the policy was introduced in April 2017 – but their decision doesn’t go nearly far enough. Since its introduction, the two-child cap has been condemned by a range of women’s organisations and children’s charities because it forces women with an unplanned pregnancy to choose between exposing their family to poverty or having an abortion. We know that women’s decisions on whether or not to continue with a pregnancy are directly impacted by this policy, a policy which is based on the false assumption that pregnancy can always be avoided. For some women who don’t have the option of a termination – including those in Northern Ireland – they will be forced to bear a child they simply cannot afford against their wishes.
BBC survey highlights breastfeeding challenges
A new survey commissioned by BBC Woman’s Hour has highlighted the many challenges that women face when breastfeeding, and found that half of mothers who struggle to breastfeed feel guilty or like a ‘failure’. In a special episode with BBC Sheffield, six women shared their experiences of infant feeding, and how their plan matched up to the reality. You can listen to their stories here. Meanwhile, we met with Feed UK – a brilliant organisation that offers supportive, inclusive, evidence-based information on feeding – to discuss how best to support women in their infant feeding choices.
Clinic protests: Richmond a step closer to introducing the UK’s second buffer zone
The results from Richmond Council’s consultation are in, and the responses were overwhelmingly in favour of a buffer zone outside the bpas clinic on Rosslyn Road. Richmond would be the second Local Authority to introduce such a measure, after Ealing Council introduced a buffer zone last year. For years now, women accessing our clinic in Richmond have had to walk past anti-choice campaigners, who regularly protest outside, calling after patients and distributing misleading leaflets. We hope this buffer zone will be introduced to move them away from the clinic entrance, so that women can access the health services they need in privacy and safety.
Champion of Choice: Dr Gemma Sharp
This issue’s Champion of Choice is Dr Gemma Sharp, Lecturer in Molecular Epidemiology at Bristol University, and the author of our first guest blog for the WRISK project. Her blog, entitled “It’s the mother! Is there a strong scientific rationale for studying pregnant mothers so intensively?” explores the current intensive scrutiny of pregnant mothers in both science and our wider culture, which is based on the assumption that the mother’s characteristics and behaviours are the most important factors in shaping a child’s health. She concludes her blog: “I hope that, along with the rest of the research community, we can produce high quality evidence to support health care and advice that maximises the health of all family members and stops blaming women for the ill health of the next generation.”
WRISK project launched, to understand & improve the communication of risk on matters relating to pregnancy
From what to eat and drink, to how much they should weigh, to what medications they should and shouldn’t take, women receive countless public health messages when they are pregnant or planning a pregnancy. While these messages are well intentioned, there is concern that they do not always fully reflect the evidence, and negotiating this risk landscape can feel confusing, overwhelming and disempowering. We are proud to have launched the WRISK project, in collaboration with organisations including Birthrights, Antenatal Results and Choices, Pregnancy Sickness Support, Big Birthas and NCT, funded by the Wellcome trust. The project will take a woman-centred approach and draw on their experiences to develop recommendations for respectful risk communication in pregnancy. Get in touch at wrisk.org!
More than 60 celebrities demand change in Northern Ireland
As the Republic of Ireland makes plans to introduce termination services, Northern Irish women still cannot access abortion care in their own country, despite MPs voting twice earlier this year for reform. Diana Johnson MP’s bill to decriminalise abortion in the UK has not yet been given time for a second reading, in a parliamentary session dominated by Brexit. To keep up the pressure, last month over 60 celebrities including Dame Vivienne Westwood, Kate Beckinsale, Jodie Whittaker, Claire Foy, Olivia Colman and Claudia Winkleman wrote to Theresa May to demand change. You can read their letter in full here.
Emergency contraception is £4.99 ahead of the Christmas season
Online pharmacy Chemist 4 U is selling emergency contraception for just £4.99 ahead of the festive season. Over the Christmas period we know that many women struggle to access contraceptive services, as was highlighted this time last year by MPs in an open letter to Boots. So we’re delighted that this year Chemist 4 U is giving women an all important second chance to avoid an unwanted pregnancy – with an affordable price tag. We recommend stocking up and keeping some in the bathroom cupboard, just in case.
Champion of choice
Our champion of choice this time is journalist Laura Silver, who recently won the FPA’s Rosemary Goodchild award for excellence in sexual health journalism. You can read her winning piece, “A Half-Century Later, British Women Are Still Fighting For Full Abortion Rights”, here.
MPs to vote on decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland
On 23 October, Diana Johnson MP will bring a new bill to the House of Commons to decriminalise abortion in England, Wales and – crucially – Northern Ireland. The bill is co-sponsored by a cross-party group of MPs in response to growing calls for Westminster to address Northern Ireland’s archaic abortion law, which has been condemned by the Supreme Court and by UN Human Rights body CEDAW.
Women in Northern Ireland are threatened with life imprisonment for ending a pregnancy, including in cases of rape or fatal foetal anomaly. Last year nearly 1000 Northern Irish women travelled overseas to access abortion services. The new bill calls for the repeal of sections 58-59 of the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 – the same law which still criminalises abortion in England and Wales.
Flour to be fortified with folic acid, to help prevent neural tube defects
After decades of campaigning by medical bodies and women’s healthcare charities, it has been announced that the government will introduce the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid, a vitamin which helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. At present, the UK has one of the highest rates of neural tube defects in Europe, with around 1,000 pregnancies affected every year. Many of these cases will result in the painful decision to terminate a wanted pregnancy.
Folic acid can prevent neural tube defects, but only if taken extremely early in pregnancy or ideally before conception. Since around half of UK pregnancies are unplanned, many women will miss the window before realising they are pregnant. The fortification of flour is a simple public health intervention that will boost levels of folic acid in women by ensuring it enters foods that are widely consumed by the public.
First pregnancy sickness drug licensed
Last month saw the launch of Xonvea, the first nausea medication to be licensed in the UK specifically for use in pregnancy. At present, women suffering with pregnancy sickness are too often told that they must endure their symptoms, on the basis that there is no treatment safe for use in pregnancy. We are hopeful that this will give doctors the confidence to prescribe anti-sickness medication to pregnant women who need it. We blogged on the importance of this announcement, and its significance in writing pregnant women’s needs back into a foetus-centric script.
¾ NHS Trusts are flouting guidelines by denying women caesareans on request
A new report by UK charity Birthrights has found that only 1 in 4 NHS Trusts offers maternal request caesarean sections in line with NICE best-practice guidance. The report found that at the majority of Trusts the process of requesting a caesaren was lengthy, difficult or inconsistent, with women reporting dismissive, judgemental and even hostile responses from medical professionals.
It is unacceptable that a woman’s choice in childbirth should come down to a postcode lottery, or that she should be forced to negotiate a difficult and opaque process simply to access her preferred method. Women’s reasons for requesting a caesarean are many and varied – ranging from a previous traumatic birth experience, to a mental health issue, to a simple personal decision based on evidence. Their choices should be respected.
Champion of choice
Our champion this time is Sarah Ewart, a Northern Irish woman who travelled to England for an abortion in 2013, having received the heartbreaking news at her 20-week scan that her baby had anencephaly and would not survive. Ewart is mounting a legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion law, which prevented her from receiving the care she needed in her own country.