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bpas has withdrawn from the Public Affairs Awards, having been nominated for Voluntary Sector Campaign of the Year, due to the decision to honour anti-abortion group Both Lives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
Bill to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales on Monday 13th March
Next week on 13th March, MPs will vote on a bill that would decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy in England and Wales. Under a law passed in 1861 – before women could vote – any woman in the UK can face life imprisonment for ending a pregnancy without legal authorisation, including women who buy abortion pills online, many of whom are unaware they are committing a crime.
We trust women to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies. Ask your MP to do the same and protect women by supporting the bill. You can email your MP here. It takes just one minute.
Non-invasive prenatal testing concerns
We were extremely disappointed to read the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ recent report on non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), and in particular by the mistrust of women that seemed to permeate. NIPT offers women more accurate screening than other methods, often earlier in the pregnancy, and – crucially – without the risk of miscarriage. Nuffield’s suggestion that NIPT could increase the risk of sex-selective abortion is deeply problematic, and we wholeheartedly reject their call to restrict women’s access to their own screening results on the grounds that they may use the information to make the ‘wrong’ decisions about their pregnancies.
Women are capable of making good, ethical reproductive choices, and – as the ones who will bear the consequences – they absolutely must be trusted to do so. Their access to information that enables them to make the choices that are right for them and their families should not be restricted. Read our full statement here.
Support for women with extreme morning sickness
New research has shown that women suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) are being denied effective treatment and compassionate care, leaving some with little choice but to end wanted pregnancies. A survey, conducted by Pregnancy Sickness Support (PSS) alongside researchers at Plymouth University, has revealed that women are not receiving proper information about the availability of safe and effective treatment for HG, including being misled about the dangers. Just 34% of the women interviewed felt they were given sufficient information to make an informed decision about their medication and treatment.
Bpas and PSS are calling for greater investment in day units, where women with HG can receive accurate information and specialist care from trained staff, avoiding expensive hospital stays.
Sex and Relationships Education to be taught by all England’s schools
The Education Secretary Justine Greening has announced that, from September 2019, it will be compulsory for all England’s schools to offer Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). Outdated SRE guidelines will also be improved, particularly to teach students about staying safe online. We were delighted to read the announcement, which follows months of campaigning by MPs and charities alike (including a Valentine’s Day open letter from End Violence Against Women Coalition). All young people deserve access to comprehensive SRE, which helps them to have happy, healthy relationships and improves sexual health outcomes.
Champions of Choice in the news
This month Diane Munday, former general secretary of the Abortion Law Reform Association, wrote to the Daily Mail about abortion rights and was awarded Letter of the Week. Here is her letter in full:
“Thank you for making it very clear to women who try to end their own pregnancies (even by buying safe, readily available pills) that they risk going to prison for life. This isn’t something many people know about.
“As someone who, half a century ago, campaigned for legal abortion, I knew then that the passing of the Abortion Act 1967 did much less than needed. It only made exemptions to the Victorian law still in force which makes criminals of women who attempt to end their own pregnancies.
“To me (now a very old woman), it’s almost unbelievable that in 2017 women must get the written consent of two doctors before an intolerable pregnancy can be legally ended.
“On March 13, Parliament will discuss a Bill that seeks to decriminalise abortion. It could start the ball rolling to give British women the same rights that have been available in places such as Canada for 30 years, with no ill-effects.
“If only one in ten of the women who have had a legal abortion (thought to be about one in three) was to join me in writing to her MP saying “support the bill to decriminalise abortion”, it would be difficult for Parliament to ignore us any longer.”
Northern Ireland abortions at record low as prosecution rates rise
New figures published by the Department of Health show that the number of abortions in Northern Ireland has fallen by more than half during a five-year period, now standing at a record low of just 16 abortions in 2015/16. This drop has coincided with a dramatic increase in the number of abortion-related prosecutions: three women have been taken through the courts in the last twelve months, and just last week a judicial review was granted to a mother who bought her young daughter abortion medication and now faces criminal prosecution. Public awareness of such cases has two effects: women are deterred from seeking medical help after taking abortion pills, endangering their health, and doctors feel unable to sanction terminations for fear of facing harsh criminal penalties. The result? Northern Irish women in need of abortion care have no choice but to travel to England, at huge financial and personal cost.
Sex and Relationships Education ‘fatally neglected’
A new report published by the British Humanist Association has found that sex and relationships education is being ‘fatally neglected’ by Ofsted inspectors. The report “Healthy, Happy, Safe?” analysed over 2,000 Ofsted reports and found that, shockingly, consent was mentioned only twice and pornography just once. The findings come amid a fierce debate amongst MPs on whether SRE should be made compulsory in schools. We are deeply concerned by the widespread neglect in our schools of SRE, which contributes to improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes and enables young people to enjoy healthier, happier relationships.
Protection for women entering abortion clinics
Protesters are continuing to harass and intimidate women outside abortion clinics as they try to access services. Anti-abortion activism targeted at clinics has increased in Britain in recent years, mainly driven by American-linked groups. Those adversely affected include female NHS patients, their partners, families and friends, clinic staff and local residents. This month the Labour MP for Ealing Rupa Huq took action alongside pro-choice organisation Sister Supporter, raising concerns in the House of Commons. Dr Huq said, “It is totally unacceptable that vulnerable women have to run the gauntlet to receive the help of which they are entitled.” Hear hear. You can join our “Back Off” campaign calling for buffer zones to be introduced outside clinics here.
Women’s March in London
This month, Women’s Marches took place in cities around the world in opposition to Donald Trump’s inauguration. In London it’s estimated that 100,000 protesters took to the streets on 21st January – the first full day of Trump’s presidency – citing a range of issues including his misogynistic comments and his stance on abortion, and holding banners that read, “Girls just wanna have fundamental rights”, “Women won’t be trumped” and “Burn bras not bridges”. We were delighted to join them and we welcome the widespread condemnation of Trump’s view that there must be ‘some sort of punishment’ for abortions. However, it should be remembered that here in the UK, not all women can access abortion care without ‘punishment’ – as women in Northern Ireland know only too well.
Trump’s attack on abortion rights
We were dismayed to read that, two days after the Women’s Marches, Donald Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the Reagan-era “global gag rule”, which banned family planning providers from ‘performing or actively promoting abortion’ if they received US aid money. Catastrophically, Trump has also extended the rule to apply to all global health organisations – any of which could now lose US funding if they even mention abortion. The global ramifications of this extreme decision will be enormous, endangering millions of lives and, by some estimates, leading to the deaths of thousands of women. It must be reversed.
Champion of Choice nomination
This month we nominate Labour MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy, who has called on the government to change its guidelines on sex & relationships education in our schools. Creasy led an all-female group of MPs proposing an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, which would have made SRE compulsory. Sadly the amendment was rejected, but Creasy has vowed to keep fighting, calling on Conservative MPs to work together with Labour on this important issue.
Access to emergency contraception
Emergency contraception is five times more expensive to buy in the UK than it is in France. Introduced fifteen years ago, the progestogen-only contraceptive pill is extremely safe and available in many countries straight off the shelf for prices as low as €7 (£6). In the UK, however, the same pill can cost up to £30. This high price is largely a result of the mandatory consultation with a pharmacist that women must endure before being granted access to emergency contraception (EC). Not only does this consultation drive up the price, but it is also patronising, off-putting and clinically unnecessary. It has prevented men from accessing the pill on behalf of their partners and, as the Guardian notes, there is a danger of pharmacists using “moral, rather than medical, judgement”. bpas is urging that EC is reclassified as a General Sales List drug, so that it can be available straight from the shelf, without a consultation, and at an affordable price. This month we launched the #JustSayNon campaign to highlight the shockingly high cost of EC and to call on women to reject this sexist surcharge. Watch our campaign video and click here to sign up, spread the message and Just Say Non!
Legal challenge: funding abortions for Northern Irish women
A Northern Irish woman who had to pay £900 for an abortion in England has taken her legal challenge to the Supreme Court. The woman, whose case is supported by a coalition of five reproductive rights organisations including bpas, challenged the Secretary of State for Health’s decision that the NHS should not fund abortions for Northern Irish women. Northern Ireland’s extreme abortion laws stipulate that abortion is illegal in all cases unless there is a direct threat to the mother’s life (despite public opinion to the contrary). Northern Irish women who need a termination must therefore travel to England, Scotland or Wales and pay privately for their treatment – a cost that can be up to £2000. We at bpas believe this is profoundly unjust, not least because Northern Irish women pay the same taxes as those in the rest of the UK and therefore should have access to the same healthcare services. This is a hefty financial barrier with grave implications, forcing many women to delay their abortions or even resort to unsupervised home abortions, which carry a harsh criminal penalty. As such we view the NHS restriction as a direct contravention of international human rights law. The Supreme Court is yet to hand down its decision.
USA abortion rights under threat
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, abortion rights are under threat in the state of Ohio. The state legislature has passed a bill banning abortions from as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, at which stage many women do not even know they are pregnant. According to the bill, a doctor who terminates a pregnancy when a heartbeat is detectable – or without listening for a heartbeat – can be imprisoned for up to a year. Ohio politicians cited Trump’s election victory as their motivation to push through the bill. Pro-choice men and women in Ohio are protesting. Since being elected, Donald Trump has stayed firm on his intention to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, who could overturn Roe v. Wade, revoking women’s constitutional right to abortions in the USA. He has also appointed a Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, who supports the defunding of Planned Parenthood. We stand alongside the women in Ohio, and across the United States, who are being forced to defend their rights to legal abortion access and reproductive choice.
New statistics on motherhood
New figures published by the Office of National Statistics suggest that women are opting to have fewer children. The proportion of women who reach the end of their childbearing years with only one child has increased to 18%, which, for the first time in decades, is higher than the proportion of women who have three children (17%). Two-child families remain the most common (37%). The figures also show that the number of teenage pregnancies continues to decline, whilst the proportion of 35-year-old women who bear children has increased (from 30 births per 1000 women in 1978 to 75 births per 1000 women in 2005). This is consistent with the NHS’s most recent report on Hospital Maternity Activity, which notes both that the proportion of caesarean sections increases with age, and that there have been more caesarean deliveries in recent years. At bpas we do not see this as a problem, but rather we respect and support women’s family planning decisions, and trust them to choose both when and how many children to have, depending on what is right for them.
New support for decriminalisation
The Women’s Equality Party has passed a motion at its inaugural party conference to decriminalise abortion, voicing its support for the We Trust Women campaign. In a welcome statement, the party’s leader Sophie Walker has described the limiting of reproductive rights as “a form of violence against women”, calling for abortion to be decriminalised and treated instead as a sexual health and human rights issue. The WEP’s campaign comes in the same month as an announcement that Labour MP Diana Johnson has tabled a 10-minute bill for March 2017 to decriminalise abortion, and amid new calls for the Scottish government to decriminalise terminations now that abortion law has been devolved. Sign up here to join our We Trust Women campaign to decriminalise abortion across the UK.
Champions of Choice in the news
Two of our Champions of Choice, Susan Seenan (chief executive of Infertility Network UK and co-chair of Fertility Fairness) and Sarah Norcross (co-chair of Fertility Fairness), have raised concern following the news that Britain’s fertility services are failing to meet national guidelines, with only two per cent of clinical commissioning groups funding all the fertility treatments recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Speaking to the Telegraph, Seenan described this as, “cruel and unethical, and a national disgrace for the country that pioneered IVF”. Norcross added, “The IVF postcode lottery is being exacerbated by CCGs not making evidence-based commissioning decisions and routinely ignoring the guidance from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence”.
bpas chief executive Ann Furedi has written an important piece in the Telegraph to expose the deep flaws in Donald Trump’s pledge to give abortion law “back to the states”. She outlines the dangers that will face women if they do not have access to safe and legal terminations in their own state: “Do not underestimate how great these distances are and how difficult travel can be… Wealthy women with problem pregnancies will get on planes; poor women will have to cope in whatever way they can. Already US researchers report an increased unregulated use of medications obtained online”. You can read her full article here.
Champion of Choice nomination
For this month’s Champion of Choice we nominate First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, who has confirmed her intention to hold talks with the Scottish NHS to explore the provision of free abortions in Scotland for Northern Irish women. Sturgeon has consistently defended women’s access to safe and legal abortion care, resisting calls for the 24-week limit to be reduced. Her comments were welcomed by Amnesty International’s Patrick Corrigan who said, “Given the utter human rights failure of Northern Ireland’s Ministers to provide free, safe and legal abortion healthcare for women and girls here, we welcome the commitment of Scotland’s First Minister to explore what can be done via NHS Scotland.” We believe that Sturgeon’s commitment to providing NI women with free abortion care in Scotland makes her a worthy and vital champion of choice. We applaud her intervention and hope that England and Wales might follow her example.