Clare Murphy is the Director of External Affairs at bpas. This piece was originally published on Huffington Post.
Today the British Pregnancy Advisory Service launches our Charter For Choice. It lays out our key demands to protect and extend women’s reproductive choices, which are sadly so often under assault across the UK today. It recognises that the same principles of choice and autonomy must underpin women’s reproductive health services at every stage of her life journey. We may see them as disparate, but decisions ranging from which contraception to use to whether you breastfeed your baby are all reproductive choices, and we need to stand up for women’s right to make them by themselves and for themselves – not in accordance with anyone else’s agenda.
At the heart of our charter is a commitment to putting women at the heart of reproductive decision-making. From taking abortion out of the criminal law to bring it in line with other women’s healthcare procedures to ensuring women have impartial, evidence-based information on which to make their own decisions about pregnancy and birth, we need frameworks that recognise women as autonomous individuals capable of making their own minds about their own bodies. It is scandalous that in 2015, women still have to explain the vagaries of their sex life to a stranger in a pharmacy in order to obtain an emergency contraceptive pill that is safer than many of the medicines you can buy straight off the shelf, no questions asked. It is frankly insulting that some don’t believe pregnant women are capable of differentiating between a glass and the best part of a bottle of wine, and so must be advised to abstain altogether.
And if women are to be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies and births – we need the services in place to support their choices.
While many early abortions can now be carried out with pills outside hospital settings, there remains a pressing need for hospital doctors trained in surgical procedures and able to care for increasing numbers of women with complex health needs, for whom continuation of a pregnancy would be catastrophic for their health. While we regularly lament women’s suffering in “abortion free” Ireland, we should note that in the UK today, women are being compelled to continue pregnancies they do not want and which will harm their health because they cannot find a doctor to help them.
Choice in birth, whether refusing intervention or requesting it, whether at home or in hospital, must also be paramount. More women are having children later in life, as women’s optimum age of childbearing often does not co-incide with the optimum time in that particular woman’s life for her to have a baby. Some of these women, and younger ones too, will need IVF services – and yet many areas are failing to provide the full 3 cycles of treatment that have been recommended by NICE. While the difficulties of conceiving and risks of pregnancy and birth for women over 35 must never be overstated, we need maternity services that can cater for the more complex pregnancies of some older women.
The launch of our charter is also a chance to hail the amazing work being done by so many – our Champions of Choice. From the brave activists in Northern Ireland challenging the province’s archaic and cruel abortion restrictions so women can end their pregnancies, to the dedicated charity helpline workers doing everything to ensure women with appalling pregnancy sickness can access the medications they need to continue their pregnancies, there are campaigners and healthcare workers across our country doing their utmost for women’s choice.
We want to hear about champions everywhere. Had a great midwife? Feel your MP is out there standing up for women? Want to show your support for a local campaigner? Let us know, so we can celebrate their commitment to women’s choice – and in the meantime show yours by signing the Charter for Choice.