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.”