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.