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.
Undercover anti-abortion investigation
Channel 4’s Dispatches recently investigated anti-abortion activism outside abortion clinics. The programme showcased the shameful tactics of anti- abortion extremists and the effects these can have on women accessing abortion care. Activists were caught lying to women and deliberately targeting those who had had an abortion and weren’t upset enough. One woman described being physically blocked and grabbed when leaving the clinic. Bpas and a group of leading women’s advocacy and health organisations such as Women’s Aid, Mumsnet and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (RCOG), placed a letter in the Times, calling on the Home Secretary to act. Please help us keep up the pressure by emailing your MP here.
Public support for decriminalisation in Ireland
When women are unable to access legal abortion care in their own country, that doesn’t stop them needing it. Instead, women in Ireland and Northern Ireland are increasingly looking to the internet for abortion pills. A new study published in the BJOG shows women buying abortion pills online express a strong feeling of gratitude and relief that they were able to end an unwanted pregnancy. Their only regret is that what they are having to do is illegal in their country. It is no surprise then that three in five people in Northern Ireland support decriminalisation, according to a new survey conducted for Amnesty International. This new survey sends a clear message to politicians that the public do not support punishing women who end a pregnancy. Sign up to the campaign to decriminalise abortion across all of the UK here.
A new Danish study highlights an association between women taking the contraceptive pill and those also being prescribed antidepressants, particularly among young women. The researchers refrained from full frontal scaremongering, to those already on the pill, by suggesting they shouldn’t worry as their results didn’t show the pill directly causing depression. They did however insist their findings were not trivial and women should be fully informed. Most of the viral coverage used trick of statistics to dramatize the findings and present a skewed perspective on the actual risks to women’s health. A sensible Jezebel piece rightly stated the results are not a reason for “all women to ceremoniously dump their pill packets”. Whilst it is extremely important that women are kept informed of the risks and benefits associated with contraceptives, it is vital that these are not overstated and women are left to make choices that are right for them.
Standing up for abortion rights
After proposals to introduce an all right ban on abortions, thousands of women in Poland went on strike in protest against further restrictions to their already restrictive abortion laws. Activists in London also protested outside the Polish embassy and many people around the globe wore black to show their solidarity. While the strike was a success , with Polish MP’s voting against the total ban on abortions, there are now new proposals to outlaw abortions in cases where foetuses are unviable. This has resulted in fresh protests across Warsaw. We stand with the women of Poland and echo their demand that women should be trusted to make decisions about their body and not branded as criminals for doing so.
Hear from our Champions
Diane Munday, a pioneer for the 1967 Abortion Act, wrote a brilliant letter to The Guardian calling on British women to rally together to support an upcoming bill to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales – and as soon as we receive news on the date of this bill we will let you know.
Champion of Choice nomination
We nominate Keir Starmer MP as a champion for choice for his dedication to women accessing legal healthcare free from intimidation an harassment. In Dispatches he acknowledged how anti abortion extremists behaviour is intended and a gross invasion of privacy, calling for buffer zones around abortion clinics.
New support for women taking abortion pills
Extreme abortion laws in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Isle of Man mean access to abortion services in these areas is currently highly restricted, forcing many women to travel abroad to access treatment. bpas has launched a free telephone aftercare helpline for women from these areas who cannot travel and who have taken abortion pills bought online. This new helpline will provide reassurance and advise women if they need to seek urgent medical help. While we wait for politicians to do the right thing and provide the care women need at home, we will work to ensure all women can access essential support.
A new NICE quality standard suggests women should be encouraged to use the copper coil as their preferred method of emergency contraception, rather than the morning-after pill. Whilst the coil is more effective, contraceptive choices are not based solely on which method provides the greatest protection against unwanted pregnancy, but what that individual woman feels is right for her. Contraceptive services should be designed around what women want, not what we think is best for them. We believe it would be more helpful to set a national standard enabling all women to access emergency hormonal contraception for free through a local pharmacy – in many areas women have no choice but to pay up to £30 or struggle to get a timely appointment with their GP.
Speaking out about abortion
Although one in three women will have a termination in their lifetime, there still remains an awful lot of stigma surrounding a woman’s decision to have an abortion. The shout your abortion campaign did an excellent job at exposing this, but there is still a long way to go. So we welcome the news that actress Naya Rivera bravely spoke out about her abortion, countering this idea that ending a pregnancy is something to be ashamed of. If you’d like to share your abortion story, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, please do send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found here.
The rise of the sensible teenager
An American survey shows teenagers are having less sex, highlighting the disconnect between society’s perception we live in an overly sexualised ‘tinder’ culture and the reality of people’s lives, in which many prefer an evening with The Great British Bake Off. In the UK, teenage pregnancy rates continue to decline, now standing at the lowest level on record, which may be because of reduced sexual activity. Alcohol consumption, often linked with sexual encounters, has also fallen dramatically among younger age groups. Better sexual health and contraceptive service will play a significant role in reducing teenage pregnancy rates, but attention needs to be paid to the growing shift in lifestyle choices made by teenagers.
Support for the Decriminalisation campaign
We are delighted to announce The Green Party voted to adopt decriminalisation as their official party policy at their Autumn Conference last week. It’s brilliant to see the party leading the way and reaffirming their support for a woman’s right to choose. Our chief executive Ann Furedi recently published her book “Making the Moral Case for abortion”, where she makes a compelling case for abortion to be removed from the criminal law. Royalties from the first year of sales will go towards the We Trust Women campaign to decriminalise abortion across the UK. You can get your copy of the book here, or alternatively why not check out the great tea towels and totes in the We Trust Women shop. Again, all proceeds go towards our campaign.
Hear from our Champions
In anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, we interviewed one of the excellent pioneers for the Act Dilys Cossey, to get her perspective on the fight for abortion rights half a century on. In the interview she shares her formative experiences as a young woman when abortion was illegal, and the subsequent impact of the 1967 Act. She also discusses the key to campaigning and the future of the pro-choice movement.
Champion of Choice nomination
We nominate the brilliant Fawcett Society for their continued campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights as this month’s Champion of Choice. If you haven’t done so already, have a look at their Face her Future campaign, aimed at extending and defending women’s rights as we leave the European Union.
Once-a-month-pill scuppered by abortion laws
Our antiquated abortion laws are preventing the development of a new once-a-month birth control pill. While current methods of contraception work by preventing the sperm reaching the egg or by preventing a fertilised egg attaching to the lining of the womb, researchers say a once-monthly pill that would work post implantation is more than scientifically possible, but abortion laws which legally define pregnancy as beginning from the moment a fertilised egg implants prevent its development. Another good reason why we need to reform our abortion legislation.
Fertility rate for older women continues to rise
The trend towards older motherhood is here to stay, with recent figures from the Office for National statistics showing that women over 40 are having more babies than those under 20. Rather than scaremongering about fertility ‘falling off a cliff’ at 35, campaigners have called for women’s family planning decisions to be respected and supported. We must provide women with accurate, evidence based information and ensure maternity services are able to deliver the additional care that may be needed for older women.
New guidelines for Pregnancy Sickness
The RCOG has published new and welcome guidelines acknowledging the impact of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) on pregnant women, urging healthcare professionals to provide necessary treatment. Too often HG can be dismissed, and effective medication is rarely prescribed despite evidence demonstrating it is perfectly safe. Recently there was a moving piece in the Telegraph by a woman who desperately wanted a baby but because of her severe morning sickness didn’t feel unable to continue with her pregnancy – and this is sadly not an isolated case.
Calls from medical professionals for abortion to be decriminalised
Activity to remove abortion from the criminal law continues across the UK. At The Royal College of Nursing Congress there was a call to ditch these strict laws and allow women to take abortion medication at home, and doctors at this year’s BMA Annual Representative meeting also passed a vote for their ethics committee to consider the case for decriminalisation – video of the debate online here (starting at 3 hours 13 minutes.) Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, women are asking to be prosecuted for taking abortion pills and drones carrying abortion pills are being used to highlight the draconian nature of abortion laws. If you’d like to support the campaign to decriminalise abortion across the UK please donate here or check out the We Trust Women shop.
Champion of Choice nomination
We nominate Lord Rooker as our champion of choice this month for his continued fight for the fortification of flour with folic acid, or as he refers to it: “flour power”. His Private Member’s Bill, calling for fortification of flour to reduce neural tube defects, has successfully passed onto committee stage. We wish him the best of luck and thank him for his commitment to sparing women the painful decision of having to end a wanted pregnancy after a diagnosis of neural tube defect.
Share your story
Ahead of the 50 year anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act we are calling on women to share their stories. Since the Act was passed thousands of women have been supported by doctors, nurses and midwives and we would like to honour that contribution by publishing a booklet of letters from women to the medical professionals who supported them. If you would like to write a letter (anonymously if you prefer) please email it to email@example.com
Prosecutions and launch of campaign to decriminalise abortion
Earlier this month, a young woman in Northern Ireland’s was given a three-month prison sentence suspended for a year for taking abortion medication bought online. A number of MPs subsequently wrote to parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights urging action, pointing out while abortion is a devolved issue, human rights are not – and Westminster has a responsibility to act. The appalling ordeal of this young woman has raised awareness of the fact that abortion remains a criminal offence, and any woman in England, Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland can face imprisonment for ending her pregnancy. Bpas and a coalition of women’s organisations have launched the We Trust Women campaign to remove abortion from the criminal law across the UK. We held a public meeting in London with a panel of experts exploring the case for decriminalisation, and you can listen again here. If you would like to support the campaign please do email your MP, it is very quick using this template. If you are interested in donating to the campaign, please do so here.
Birthrights, The Centre for Parenting Studies and bpas hosted a one day conference Policing Pregnancy: Maternal Autonomy, Risk and Responsibility on 13th April which explored the many ways women’s behaviour and choices in pregnancy can be scrutinised and restricted. Speakers argued that women deserve evidence-based information which is communicated in a way that contextualises risk and enables women to make their own decisions, based on their own circumstances. The need to listen to women and trust them was highlighted recently when a woman’s request for a caesarean section was refused and tragically her baby died. As Milli Hill commented there sadly remains “a problem with letting women be the ultimate decision makers.” Abstracts from the day are available here.
Teenage pregnancy rates at all time low
Recent figures published by the Office of National Statistics show the rate of teenage pregnancy in England and Wales stands at its lowest level since records began 50 years ago, debunking public perception that we are a nation of “ gymslip mums”. Whilst better access to contraception and sex education will have played a significant role, it’s unlikely that these improvements are the sole factors at play. It has been argued plummeting levels of teenage drinking may be reducing the likelihood of both unprotected sex – and indeed sex in the first place. Experts have linked the increasing time teenagers spend socialising online as opposed to sitting at the bus stop with a bottle of cider with the decrease in rates. The ONS has suggested the changing aspirations of young people and perception of stigma associated with being a teenage mother may also be factors.
Rise of anti-choice activity in Scotland as abortion is devolved
The Scotland Bill received Royal Assent on 23rd March which means that abortion law has now been devolved to Holyrood. While some worry there will be calls to restrict abortion access, we believe it could in fact pave the way for a better abortion framework, and we are pleased that the Green Party in Scotland have declared their support for decriminalisation in their manifesto. The recent 40 Days for Life ‘vigils’ saw anti abortion campaigners outside a Glasgow hospital, the first time Scotland has seen these US-style protests. Pro-choice activists showed their opposition to this intimidating activity by attending a rally in Glasgow town centre. If you’d like to support our Back Off campaign to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics to ensure women can access pregnancy advice and abortion centres free from interference and intimidation please email your MP here.
Champion of Choice in the news
Diane Munday, a key member of the Abortion Law Reform Association in the 1960’s, wrote an important letter to the Guardian in the wake of Donald Trump’s comment women should be punished for having an illegal abortion. She noted that we shouldn’t be outraged by Trump, as here in the UK women have faced punishment since 1861 – and a young mother from County Durham is currently imprisoned for two and a half years for “inducing a miscarriage” using abortion medication bought online.
Champion of Choice Nomination
We nominate Naomi Phillips of the British Humanist Association as our Champion of Choice for her continued commitment to women’s reproductive choice. At our recent We Trust Women event Naomi highlighted the need to put women at the front and centre of decision-making. Naomi’s belief that we need to stop criminalising women for what should be a fundamental right, and her dedication to campaigning to make that a reality, makes her a much appreciated champion of choice.
Another set of guidelines have been published on how much alcohol women can drink during pregnancy. The answer, according to the Chief Medical Officer, is none – an extremely precautionary approach, as there is no evidence of harm from low levels of drinking during pregnancy. We were pleased, however, that the new guidance provides some much-needed reassurance for women who have drunk before confirming a pregnancy, quite rightly confirming they are extremely unlikely to have damaged their baby. Most debate focused on the dramatic reduction in the recommended consumption levels for men to the same levels as women (a cynical sop to gender politics according to Simon Heffer in The Guardian). But Linda Geddes (one of our Champions of Choice) was more concerned with the way the guidelines for pregnant women would be interpreted by healthcare professionals, urging honesty about the limitations of the evidence. This isn’t the only policing of pregnancy we have seen recently. Women who are pregnant have even been warned that those potatoes with your Sunday roast could mean you develop gestational diabetes. And woe betide you if you’ve eaten too many: just before Christmas, the CMO also issued a warning that women who were overweight or obese in pregnancy were increasing their risk of complications and “compromising the health of their children”. On Wednesday April 13th, bpas will hosting a conference with Birthrights and the Centre for Parenting Studies on discussions around risks and responsibility in pregnancy today. Find out more here.
Northern Ireland abortion law progress
Judge Horner, who ruled abortion provision in Northern Ireland a breach of human rights, has disappointingly put the onus on the Northern Ireland assembly to change the law. Unsurprisingly the new DUP leader Arlene Foster has stated there will be no extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. However, she said she will “carefully consider” the court ruling on rape exceptions. Generous indeed. As NI politicians continue to fail their women, The Guardian has been running a series of articles highlighting exactly what this means for those women. There have been inspiring videos and animations highlighting the hardship faced by NI women accessing abortion care, and first-hand testimony from doctors and midwives describing the fearful climate in which their profession is working. Do follow this campaign, especially with the shocking news that a woman is being prosecuted in Belfast for taking abortion medication bought online.
Just before Christmas, Natalie Towers, a 24 year old women from the North of England, was served an immediate custodial service of 30 months for using medicines to end her pregnancy at home, while not knowing that she was in the third trimester. Ann Furedi argued this unnecessary criminalisation of a woman for ending a pregnancy outside of the 1967 Abortion Act was “inhuman”. During the trial it emerged Towers had history of psychological problems and already had a child from a previous pregnancy, which she had also concealed. As Ann noted, however straightforward society makes access to abortion, women’s lives and pregnancies are far from straightforward. Not all women know when they conceived (or had sex). Not all women keep track of their periods (and not all are regular). Not all women experience symptoms, or show signs, of pregnancy, and not all women know where to turn for help. Women who induce their own abortions or conceal pregnancies are acting in desperation. They need compassion and support, not the criminal law and prison sentences.
This remains an issue across the country. Buzzfeed News investigated the ongoing presence of protesters outside one bpas London clinic, and the impact it has had on local residents. One resident said she had been called a “murderess” because she’d helped a woman gain access to the clinic. Another described an altercation he had with the group after he had seen a girl in tears as a result of them shouting “heathen” at her, standing in her way to the clinic, and praying on their knees in front of her. He had escorted her to the clinic’s door, and had then turned around to confront them. An incident involving one of the protesters’ phone led to the man being taken to the local police station for questioning, after protesters complained. Our Champion of Choice Erika Garrett, who started the phenomenally successful change.org petition to introduce buffer zones outside abortion clinics, has started a new drive to force the government to respond. This petition needs just 3,000 more signatures – please do sign.
New research shows that it will take two-thirds of couples undergoing IVF treatment up to six cycles to have a successful pregnancy. The researchers behind this study say we should not view the process as a “single shot”, finding that chances of success increased with the number of treatments. Susan Seenan believes it highlights the importance of every CCG in the country offering couples three full cycles, not just one or two which as is increasingly the case around the country. Experts said these results are another reason to an end to IVF postcode lottery currently seen in the UK.
Champions of Choice Nominations
We are nominating Alliance for Choice as a Champion of Choice this month. They are a member-based organisation that campaigns tirelessly for abortion rights in Northern Ireland. You can join their #trustwomen campaign and donate to their cause here. With this latest prosecution, your support is more needed than ever.
Northern Ireland abortion law ruling
In welcome news, Belfast’s High Court ruled that existing abortion provision in Northern Ireland is in breach of human rights law. Currently, abortion is only allowed if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission brought the case to extend abortion to cases of fatal foetal anomaly, rape or incest. This was praised by many as “momentous” for the women of Northern Ireland and hailed as a “milestone”. However, as Amnesty’s Grainne Teggart argued, the ruling also shone a light on the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to prioritise women’s healthcare. Despite these changes, the vast majority of women who need abortion care in Northern Ireland will still need to travel to access it. As bpas’ chief executive Ann Furedi noted: “This judgment recognises the right to autonomy and privacy of pregnant women with a diagnosis of fatal foetal anomaly and those who are victims of a sexual crime. We welcome this ruling – and look forward to the day when the autonomy of all women in Northern Ireland is similarly acknowledged.”
The BMJ published a study calling for mandatory fortification of food staples with folic acid to decrease the prevalence of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly in Europe. Although pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements, experts from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition said the high rates of these conditions prove these measures are failing. Less than half of pregnancies are planned, but unplanned is not synonymous with unwanted, and we cannot expect all women of reproductive age to take folic acid on the basis they may get pregnant. Despite the Food Standards Agency recommending that folic acid be added to bread and flour, the government has still not acted on this front. We hope ministers take these recommendations on board and implement what is an extremely effective and straightforward public health intervention. Read more about why we support mandatory fortification here.
The pregnancy charity Tommys started an important campaign this month, #misCOURAGE. It aims to end the silence around miscarriage by encouraging people to share their experiences, and in the process tackle the feelings of guilt and isolation many women feel. There was an honest and moving piece in Grazia which followed the tragic journey of one woman who had experienced 4 miscarriages. Tommy’s survey of more than 6,000 women who had suffered a miscarriage found one-third did not even confide in their partner. As Viv Groskop points out, this highlights just how much we associate miscarriage with failure. By calling on women to talk about their experiences Tommy’s are trying to break the social taboos around miscarriage, which they hope in turn will lead to more interest in funding for research into prevention.
Australia- buffer zones
A ban on anti -abortion protesters harassing people within 150 metres of abortion clinics became law in the Australian state of Victoria. The bill was praised for giving women accessing abortion services the same “privacy, safety and dignity” entitled to all Victorians when seeking health care. As pointed out in The Debrief, the goal of these anti-abortion protesters, whether in Australia or the UK, is to derail a women’s access to abortion care. As one woman who had experienced harassment noted in The Pool, these people “should be stood outside parliament, instead of targeting women who are hurting enough as it is. These people aren’t pro-life – they are anti-women”. Isn’t it about time our government had as much respect for a woman’s right to legal healthcare free from harassment as the Victorians do?
Champions of Choice in the news
Rebecca Schiller, co-chair of Birthrights and a doula wrote a reflective piece for Comment is Free responding to the recent report into stillbirths from Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries. The report found that in 60% of the cases reviewed, different care could have prevented a baby’s death. Rebecca argues, based on her own experiences as a doula, that rather than just investing in machines we need to try and develop a system that listens to women.
Goretti Horgan, one of the 115 activists in Northern Ireland and one of our champions of choice wrote a brilliant article following the abortion ruling in Belfast. Goretti welcomes the judgment but reminds us that thousands of women will still be forced to travel abroad for essential medical care – and those without the necessary funds will resort to self inducing a miscarriage. This situation, she states, is a “national disgrace”
Champions of Choice nomination
Thank you Lauren for nominating ROSA as your Champion of Choice: “Their sheer dedication to the reproductive rights of women makes ROSA a champion. As an Irish organisation, ROSA has tirelessly campaigned to put a stop to the hypocrisy of exporting abortion and repeal the 8th amendment. Their large-scale, high-profile campaign strategies, such as a festival they held in June with speakers debating and spreading word of the abortion rights movement, have been incredibly successful. In particular, ROSA was a lead organiser in the abortion pill bus that travelled throughout Ireland in October, providing women with the help they are entitled to and so clearly need in their country. If it weren’t for consistent voices such as ROSA, change would not take place.”
New research finds the very presence of anti-abortion activists hurts women
Researchers from Aston University have published an important report analysing anti-abortion activity and the effect this has on women attending abortion clinics. The report, which was covered by BBC News, found it is the very presence of protesters outside clinics that women find disconcerting, regardless of what it is they do. Although it comes as no surprise to pro-choice campaigners that a man standing outside a clinic with a camera strapped to his chest can cause women anxiety, it is helpful to have the impact on women evidenced in this way. As Rosa Ellis writes in her Huffington Post blog– the report really does make the case for moving protestors away from clinics hard to argue with. These people have every right to make the case against abortion and campaign against the law, but not to compromise women’s privacy and dignity as they access a confidential health service.
IVF postcode lottery
Unfortunately a couples’ ability to access IVF care on the NHS remains very much dependent on their postcode. Infertility UK Chief Executive (and our Champion of Choice) Susan Seenan and the medical director of Create Fertility, Professor Geeta Nargund, have called for a cap on the amount IVF providers can charge the NHS ( which varies from £3,000-6,000), arguing on the Victoria Derbyshire show that there is no justification for such wide variation in fees. A cap, they suggest, could ensure more equitable provision of IVF, as their research shows fewer than one in five CCGs currently offer the full 3 cycles of treatment to women under 40 as is recommended by NICE. As Kate Brian points out in her Comment is Free piece, the postcode lottery is extremely distressing for those needing fertility treatment who cannot understand why their chances of having a baby are dependent on the road they live on.
Ireland continues the fight for reproductive rights
Thousands of women from Ireland will travel to England each year to access abortion services; an important and moving piece in The Guardian follows the journeys of some of these brave women. However, given the costs involved of travelling abroad, increasing numbers of women may be turning to the internet for abortion medication they can take at home. The reproductive rights group ROSA organised a bus tour around Ireland in October, offering pills to women who boarded following an online consultation with a doctor from Women on the Web and calling for legal reform. These activists were not alone in their efforts to highlight how the law is not fit for purpose. Father Ted writer Graham Linehan and his wife Helen labelled the abortion laws “barbaric” as they joined a campaign led by Amnesty International calling for the decriminalisation of abortion in Ireland. The couple spoke publically for the first time about the abortion Helen had in England when they discovered a fatal foetal anomaly – a termination they would have been denied at home.
The Scottish Parliament will be given control over abortion law, leading to concerns that women’s access to services may be undermined. However, a piece in the New Statesman suggests there is little evidence that Holyrood would press for more draconian laws. As Ellie Hutchinson argues in her guest blog for Education for Choice, devolution offers the possibility of creating a better framework for women. The 1967 Abortion Act has in many ways served women well, but we should ask ourselves whether it is appropriate that abortion in 2015 continues to be regulated by the criminal law. If Scotland chooses to re-examine its abortion legislation, it has a chance to consign this anachronistic framework to the history books, replacing it with one that puts women at the heart of decision-making.
Women are constantly warned about ‘leaving it too late’ – now sixth formers are to be taught about the dangers of waiting to start a family in a pilot educational scheme in south London. Jemima Thackray believes women are already aware of their ticking biological clock. Young couples are not willfully taking chances with their fertility, she writes, so much as trying to carve out a ‘decent’ life for themselves. There were similar sentiments expressed by the women we surveyed for our report Becoming a mother: understanding women’s choices today. Laura Bates argued that we obsess about women’s fertility, as if “women are slot machines who simply need to be primed and pumped at the optimal socially acceptable moment for a baby to shoot out like a prize”. It’s time to take the pressure off women, she concluded, while Lynn Enright in The Pool argued we should stop painting women who want careers and babies as “selfish grabby shrews”. “Having it all”, she writes, is really just getting on with life in an equal way to most men.
Champions of Choice in the News
Lisa Hallgarten Chair of Voice for Choice and one of our Champions of Choice wrote an important piece for Comment is Free about the potential closure of the Margaret Pyke Centre, an outstanding provider of contraceptive services for women in London. As a society, she writes, we seem to take for granted the enormous life-saving, public health and social benefits that contraception has brought us. It is considered a low priority, and access and choice of method are at the mercy of incomprehensible and often inequitable funding mechanisms. If the centre loses its battle for survival we should consider this to be the canary in the coal mine for contraceptive services around the county. If it is saved, she concludes, it should motivate others to fight to save theirs
Ann Furedi, chief executive of bpas, spoke at the annual conference of to the US group Medical Students for Choice about the need to defend the language of choice when it comes to reproductive health. She asked: Does choice seem too whimsical? Are we afraid that, left to themselves, women will make a ‘wrong decision’? But who can make a better decision than the woman herself about her own circumstances? And, crucially, if she doesn’t make the decision, how can she take responsibility for it? You can read her arguments here.
Champions of Choice nominations
We are nominating Maternity Action as a Champion of Choice this month. They are a vital charity committed to ending inequality and improving the health and well-being of pregnant women, partners and young children. They work tirelessly to provide information, advice and training on maternity rights. Their extremely important #Motherswork campaign – calling on the Government to take action on pregnancy discrimination – makes them invaluable Champions of Choice.
Thank you to Nigel Wood for nominating Sarah Fisher from Marie Stopes UK as your Champion of Choice: “I would like to nominate Sarah Fisher who works in Marie Stopes abortion clinics in and around the East Anglia region. Through her work, belief and passion Sarah ensures that women who come for an abortion are treated with dignity and feel confident with their decision. Sarah is a passionate and determined team member who works day in day out with women on the front line. Her hard work and dedication is what makes her my Champion of Choice as without incredible people like Sarah who puts women first we would not be able to offer women the support they need when going through these legal but very emotional procedures.”
Abortion – the law is failing women
In a week where women’s rights occupied a significant number of column inches with the release of the film Suffragette, Professor Sally Sheldon turned the spotlight on a legal relic still controlling women’s bodies in 2015: our abortion law. It may come as a surprise to many to hear that abortion without the permission of 2 doctors is a criminal offence, carrying a penalty of life imprisonment, under a Victorian Law – still on our statutes – passed before women even had the right to vote. As Sheldon argues, it is absurd that in 2015 women do not have full bodily autonomy and the right to make fundamental decisions about their own fertility. Aside from our abortion law, we are witnessing the failure of other legislation to support women seeking abortion care as they continue to be routinely harassed on their way to clinics, reported by Buzzfeed. However, overseas in Australia, change is underway. The state of Victoria, Australia, is set to establish 150 meter protest exclusion zones outside clinics free from harassment and intimidation by anti-abortion campaigners. We hope Theresa May is taking note….
More contraceptive control for women
Contraceptive innovation is all too rare so we were very pleased to hear that women who opt for the contraceptive injection will now be able to self-administer at home. Previously, women would have to go to their GPs or sexual health clinic once every 3 months for the injection, but now women will be able to skip these more time-consuming regular visits in place of an annual check up. The need for fewer appointments aside, developments that put control over contraception and fertility directly in to women’s hands is a good thing. As our very own Champion of Choice Dr Christian Jessen argued in the Metro, the “more choice and the more power” women are given over their own bodies, the better their health outcomes will be. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves Dr Christian!
Alcohol, pregnancy, and respecting women’s autonomy
A British Medical Journal “head-to-head” debate lead to some rather confusing coverage about the impact of drinking during pregnancy. It was an interesting piece in the BMJ, exploring not only the evidence base for guidance but also the relationship between clinicians and patients and how we articulate complex information around risk. Sadly, the nuances were missed, and the coverage presented the article as “doctors advising women to abstain”, largely ignoring the solid rebuttal by Dr Patrick O’Brien from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. We couldn’t help but cheer Dr O’Brien for advocating for respect for pregnant women’s autonomy and capacity to understand information and make their own decisions. Indeed, a recent study on the prevalence of drinking during pregnancy demonstrated that the vast majority of women drink within current Nice guidelines after finding out they are pregnant – more evidence that scaremongering is simply unnecessary.
The rise and rise of older motherhood
New statistics have been released showing there are more women over the age of 35 giving birth than under the age of 25. There are a whole host of reasons as to why women delay motherhood such as career development, the ever-increasing cost of raising a child or simply that women want to wait until they “settled in other areas of their lives” as Harriet Hall states in Stylist. Radhika Sanghani brilliantly argues that the reality is there is no right age for women to choose to have children. So, rather than pushing women into having children when they’re not ready or stigmatising them for having them too early (another case of women can’t win) wouldn’t it be better if the focus was placed on supporting women to have children at a time that is right for them?
Fighting abortion stigma
The internet was taken by storm this month with thousands of tweets and stories written by brave women sharing their abortion story, or supporting others that have done, as part of the #ShoutYourAbortion trend. The campaign may have begun in America, but as Milli Hill points out, it became a global phenomenon because pro-choice advocates around the world are facing the same constant attacks on abortion provision and the “othering” of women who need abortion care. Campaigners in Ireland also spoke out last month to challenge abortion stigma in their home country, with a number of celebrities and activists “outing themselves” as having had an abortion. This trigged a flurry of Irish women writing about their abortions, ahead of the 4th Annual March for Choice which saw thousands take to the streets in Dublin. We really recommend this video of one of our Champions of Choice Mara Clarke of the Abortion Support Network speaking passionately about the experiences of women forced to travel for abortion care.
Champions of Choice in the News
In excellent news our Champion of Choice the wonderful Caitlin Dean, Nurse and Chair of Pregnancy Sickness Support, has won a Third Sector Award for Charity Chair Person of the Year. Caitlin works tirelessly to support women suffering from hyperemesis and improve the services that are available to them whilst also campaigning to raise public awareness of the condition in a public. A huge congratulations to Caitlin and a well deserved win!
We would also like to take this time to nominate Clare Daly TD as a Champion of Choice for her brave and important campaign to bring abortion rights on to the political agenda in Ireland. She has spoken out at the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment this month urging everyone to contact their TDs as well at the March for Choice. In a country where politicians fighting for women’s reproductive rights are a rarity, Clare’s commitment and passion in the battle for reproductive choice make her an invaluable Champion of Choice.