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.