Richmond Council introduces the UK’s second abortion clinic buffer zone
In good news, this week Richmond Council has become the second UK local authority to introduce an abortion clinic buffer zone. Our clinic in Richmond has had protesters outside on a daily basis since 2014, disturbing local residents and intimidating clients. We’re delighted that Richmond Council has taken this strong decision to stand up for the women and ensure they can access health services in private and free from intimidation.
Understanding risk – how do we know the right path?
Our WRISK project continues to examine how risks associated with pregnancy are communicated. This month’s guest blog is a brave personal account from Clare, who temporarily came off her antidepressants following advice from her doctor. She shares her own individual story of navigating simplistic, often conflicting medical advice, and eventually finding the right path for her.
Meanwhile a ‘myth-busting’ piece on hormonal contraception may have caused alarm by stating that the pill increases the risk of breast cancer by 38%. This is an example of when the relative risk of harm is presented, and the article failed to clarify that the increased absolute risk is still low. Statistics like this can cause undue concern or panic when they are not properly communicated.
Derry Girls join march for reform in Northern Ireland
28 women marched to Westminster with suitcases to demand change in Northern Ireland, representing the 28 women who are forced to travel from Northern Ireland every week to access abortion care. The 28 included four MPs and two members of the Derry Girls cast, Nicola Coughlan and Siobhan McSweeney. We were proud to join them to march and deliver a petition, organised by Amnesty International, which had over 62,000 signatures.
BBC finally agrees to signpost women to abortion information
The BBC has finally agreed to signpost women to NHS abortion information via its Action Line website, having initially refused to do so on the grounds it was too “contentious”. The issue arose following an episode of Call the Midwife in which a woman died following a backstreet abortion. After an overwhelming response from the public, an open letter from women’s healthcare bodies and a letter signed by nearly 100 MPs, the BBC changed its stance.
Champion of Choice
Our champion this month is the Royal College of GPs, which hasvoted to support the decriminalisation of abortion, joining the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare, and the British Medical Association.
Stella Creasy MP holds the government to account over Northern Ireland’s abortion law
This week Stella Creasy MP tabled an urgent question in the House of Commons to press the government regarding Northern Ireland’s cruel abortion law. Her question came hot on the heels of a Sunday Times investigation, which revealed the government has purposely restricted the scope of its long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill in order to avoid abortion reform in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s current law sees four women a week travel overseas for treatment and many more seek illegal abortion pills online. Statistics released this month showed that only 12 women were able to access abortion care in Northern Ireland last year – the lowest number on record. Creasy’s plea that the government should “put DV first – not the DUP” garnered support from across the House with MPs from all the major parties lending their voices. Her question came at the end of a good month for abortion rights more widely: the home use of misoprostol has finally been introduced in England, and the Isle of Man has decriminalised abortion, making their law more progressive than anywhere in the UK.
bpas calls out the government’s two-child benefits cap
We welcomed the government’s announcement that they have scrapped plans to extend the two-child benefits cap to families with children born before the policy was introduced in April 2017 – but their decision doesn’t go nearly far enough. Since its introduction, the two-child cap has been condemned by a range of women’s organisations and children’s charities because it forces women with an unplanned pregnancy to choose between exposing their family to poverty or having an abortion. We know that women’s decisions on whether or not to continue with a pregnancy are directly impacted by this policy, a policy which is based on the false assumption that pregnancy can always be avoided. For some women who don’t have the option of a termination – including those in Northern Ireland – they will be forced to bear a child they simply cannot afford against their wishes.
BBC survey highlights breastfeeding challenges
A new survey commissioned by BBC Woman’s Hour has highlighted the many challenges that women face when breastfeeding, and found that half of mothers who struggle to breastfeed feel guilty or like a ‘failure’. In a special episode with BBC Sheffield, six women shared their experiences of infant feeding, and how their plan matched up to the reality. You can listen to their stories here. Meanwhile, we met with Feed UK – a brilliant organisation that offers supportive, inclusive, evidence-based information on feeding – to discuss how best to support women in their infant feeding choices.
Clinic protests: Richmond a step closer to introducing the UK’s second buffer zone
The results from Richmond Council’s consultation are in, and the responses were overwhelmingly in favour of a buffer zone outside the bpas clinic on Rosslyn Road. Richmond would be the second Local Authority to introduce such a measure, after Ealing Council introduced a buffer zone last year. For years now, women accessing our clinic in Richmond have had to walk past anti-choice campaigners, who regularly protest outside, calling after patients and distributing misleading leaflets. We hope this buffer zone will be introduced to move them away from the clinic entrance, so that women can access the health services they need in privacy and safety.
Champion of Choice: Dr Gemma Sharp
This issue’s Champion of Choice is Dr Gemma Sharp, Lecturer in Molecular Epidemiology at Bristol University, and the author of our first guest blog for the WRISK project. Her blog, entitled “It’s the mother! Is there a strong scientific rationale for studying pregnant mothers so intensively?” explores the current intensive scrutiny of pregnant mothers in both science and our wider culture, which is based on the assumption that the mother’s characteristics and behaviours are the most important factors in shaping a child’s health. She concludes her blog: “I hope that, along with the rest of the research community, we can produce high quality evidence to support health care and advice that maximises the health of all family members and stops blaming women for the ill health of the next generation.”
WRISK project launched, to understand & improve the communication of risk on matters relating to pregnancy
From what to eat and drink, to how much they should weigh, to what medications they should and shouldn’t take, women receive countless public health messages when they are pregnant or planning a pregnancy. While these messages are well intentioned, there is concern that they do not always fully reflect the evidence, and negotiating this risk landscape can feel confusing, overwhelming and disempowering. We are proud to have launched the WRISK project, in collaboration with organisations including Birthrights, Antenatal Results and Choices, Pregnancy Sickness Support, Big Birthas and NCT, funded by the Wellcome trust. The project will take a woman-centred approach and draw on their experiences to develop recommendations for respectful risk communication in pregnancy. Get in touch at wrisk.org!
More than 60 celebrities demand change in Northern Ireland
As the Republic of Ireland makes plans to introduce termination services, Northern Irish women still cannot access abortion care in their own country, despite MPs voting twice earlier this year for reform. Diana Johnson MP’s bill to decriminalise abortion in the UK has not yet been given time for a second reading, in a parliamentary session dominated by Brexit. To keep up the pressure, last month over 60 celebrities including Dame Vivienne Westwood, Kate Beckinsale, Jodie Whittaker, Claire Foy, Olivia Colman and Claudia Winkleman wrote to Theresa May to demand change. You can read their letter in full here.
Emergency contraception is £4.99 ahead of the Christmas season
Online pharmacy Chemist 4 U is selling emergency contraception for just £4.99 ahead of the festive season. Over the Christmas period we know that many women struggle to access contraceptive services, as was highlighted this time last year by MPs in an open letter to Boots. So we’re delighted that this year Chemist 4 U is giving women an all important second chance to avoid an unwanted pregnancy – with an affordable price tag. We recommend stocking up and keeping some in the bathroom cupboard, just in case.
Champion of choice
Our champion of choice this time is journalist Laura Silver, who recently won the FPA’s Rosemary Goodchild award for excellence in sexual health journalism. You can read her winning piece, “A Half-Century Later, British Women Are Still Fighting For Full Abortion Rights”, here.
MPs to vote on decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland
On 23 October, Diana Johnson MP will bring a new bill to the House of Commons to decriminalise abortion in England, Wales and – crucially – Northern Ireland. The bill is co-sponsored by a cross-party group of MPs in response to growing calls for Westminster to address Northern Ireland’s archaic abortion law, which has been condemned by the Supreme Court and by UN Human Rights body CEDAW. Women in Northern Ireland are threatened with life imprisonment for ending a pregnancy, including in cases of rape or fatal foetal anomaly. Last year nearly 1000 Northern Irish women travelled overseas to access abortion services. The new bill calls for the repeal of sections 58-59 of the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 – the same law which still criminalises abortion in England and Wales.
Flour to be fortified with folic acid, to help prevent neural tube defects
After decades of campaigning by medical bodies and women’s healthcare charities, it has been announced that the government will introduce the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid, a vitamin which helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. At present, the UK has one of the highest rates of neural tube defects in Europe, with around 1,000 pregnancies affected every year. Many of these cases will result in the painful decision to terminate a wanted pregnancy. Folic acid can prevent neural tube defects, but only if taken extremely early in pregnancy or ideally before conception. Since around half of UK pregnancies are unplanned, many women will miss the window before realising they are pregnant. The fortification of flour is a simple public health intervention that will boost levels of folic acid in women by ensuring it enters foods that are widely consumed by the public.
First pregnancy sickness drug licensed
Last month saw the launch of Xonvea, the first nausea medication to be licensed in the UK specifically for use in pregnancy. At present, women suffering with pregnancy sickness are too often told that they must endure their symptoms, on the basis that there is no treatment safe for use in pregnancy. We are hopeful that this will give doctors the confidence to prescribe anti-sickness medication to pregnant women who need it. We blogged on the importance of this announcement, and its significance in writing pregnant women’s needs back into a foetus-centric script.
¾ NHS Trusts are flouting guidelines by denying women caesareans on request
A new report by UK charity Birthrights has found that only 1 in 4 NHS Trusts offers maternal request caesarean sections in line with NICE best-practice guidance. The report found that at the majority of Trusts the process of requesting a caesaren was lengthy, difficult or inconsistent, with women reporting dismissive, judgemental and even hostile responses from medical professionals. It is unacceptable that a woman’s choice in childbirth should come down to a postcode lottery, or that she should be forced to negotiate a difficult and opaque process simply to access her preferred method. Women’s reasons for requesting a caesarean are many and varied – ranging from a previous traumatic birth experience, to a mental health issue, to a simple personal decision based on evidence. Their choices should be respected.
Champion of choice
Our champion this time is Sarah Ewart, a Northern Irish woman who travelled to England for an abortion in 2013, having received the heartbreaking news at her 20-week scan that her baby had anencephaly and would not survive. Ewart is mounting a legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion law, which prevented her from receiving the care she needed in her own country.
10,000 abortion pills seized by authorities
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says almost 10,000 sets of abortion pills have been seized in the last 3 years, intercepted on their way to British addresses. Any woman who takes these tablets to end a pregnancy is risking up to life imprisonment, under a Victorian-era law. A recent study showed are many reasons a woman may resort to ordering pills instead of attending a clinic, ranging from childcare commitments to a coercive home environment. Women in England still cannot take misoprostol at home, which leaves them with a choice: take misoprostol at the clinic and risk miscarrying on the way home, or order pills online. MPs have called on the new Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP to address this issue, which would go some way to relieving the problem. But to protect all women from criminal sanctions, we need decriminalisation.
Teenage pregnancy: understanding the decline
New research published by bpas has found that lifestyle factors including low levels of alcohol consumption, use of social media, and more focus on family time may have influenced the sharp drop in teenage pregnancy – which has fallen by 55% in the last decade. The report, which surveyed over 1000 16-18 year olds, also found a strong focus on achieving good grades and a very negative view amongst the group of teenage pregnancy, which is still sadly highly stigmatised. Meanwhile, social, romantic and sexual relationships are increasingly experienced online, perhaps reducing opportunities for unplanned sexual encounters. Only 1/3 of those surveyed said they had had sex, and those who evaluated their sex education as ‘good’ were more likely to delay sexual activity.
MPs press the government on Northern Ireland abortion rights
New figures have shown that every day four Northern Irish women are forced to travel for a termination. The new data was released amidst growing calls for the government to grant Northern Irish women access to abortion services in their own country. This month, Stella Creasy MP coordinated a letter signed by more than 170 cross-party, cross-nation representatives, calling on the government to stop treating NI women as ‘second class citizens’. We urge them to listen.
Champion of Choice
This month’s champions of choice are the Atfield family – three teenagers and their dad who are walking from Pisa to Rome, all in aid of BPAS! Follow their journey on twitter @choicewalkers, or you can donate to support them here. Thank you, Atfields!
The UK’s first safe zone is upheld by the High Court Ealing Council, which made history in October by introducing the first UK ‘safe zone’ outside an abortion clinic, has resisted a legal challenge brought by anti-choice campaigners. The UK High Court ruled this week that the safe zone was justified, saying, “There was substantial evidence that a very considerable number of users of the clinic reasonably felt that their privacy was being very seriously invaded at a time and place when they were most vulnerable and sensitive to uninvited attention”. We have been campaigning since 2014 for buffer zones to be introduced outside abortion clinics, and we worked closely with Ealing Council and local residents’ group Sister Supporter last year to achieve Ealing’s safe zone. We are delighted to see it upheld by the High Court, but we know similar protests are happening at over 40 other clinics across the country. We need a national solution, to protect women everywhere from being harassed as they access healthcare services. Click here to email your MP. After Ireland’s historic vote, the time is #NowForNI After Ireland’s landslide vote to #repealthe8th amendment, attention has turned to the north, where women are still threatened with life imprisonment for ending a pregnancy. In the wake of the vote, MPs held an emergency debate in the House of Commons, which included impassioned pleas for change in Northern Ireland from across the House. This was quickly followed by a Supreme Court judgment which condemned Northern Ireland’s abortion law as “untenable” and in need of “radical reconsideration”. We have been working closely with Stella Creasy MP to call for Westminster to intervene and urgently repeal the Victorian-era law which criminalises women in Northern Ireland, as well as in England and Wales. Wales permits the home use of misoprostol Wales has followed Scotland’s lead by allowing women who have an Early Medical Abortion to take the second tablet, misoprostol, at home. The home use of misoprostol is very safe, recommended by the World Health Organisation, and standard practice around the world for early medical abortion. The Welsh decision will spare women the inconvenience of attending multiple, clinically unnecessary appointments, and the indignity of having to rush home before beginning to pass the pregnancy. England, however, has been left behind, and women are still compelled to take misoprostol on clinic premises before travelling home – risking cramping and heavy bleeding en route. We have been urging the Health and Social Care Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, to act on this issue and afford women in England the same dignity they would have in Scotland or Wales. Click here to email your MP and keep up the pressure. New report shows women still feel stigmatised over their reproductive choices A new report published by Public Health England, “What do women say? Reproductive health is a public health issue”, has found that many women feel their reproductive choices are judged or stigmatised. A survey of over 7,500 women showed that embarrassment or a fear of being judged are still important barriers that prevent women from seeking care, whilst, when deciding whether or when to have children, women feel that society’s expectations do not match up with their own preferences or lived experiences. Overall, the need to normalise and destigmatise reproductive healthcare decisions is crucial: women must be supported and empowered to make the right decisions for them, without fear of judgement. Champion of Choice This month’s champion is Ealing Council, which was the first local authority to bring in a safe zone outside an abortion clinic last year, and has recently resisted a legal challenge from anti-choice campaigners. It’s fantastic to see them protecting women in the area, along with local residents’ group Sister Supporter. Keep up the good work, Ealing!
UN committee calls on UK to decriminalise abortion In the same month we celebrated 100 years of partial female suffrage in the UK, our antiquated abortion law – passed well before women could vote – has been heavily criticised. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has published a damning report on women’s rights in Northern Ireland, finding that NI’s abortion restrictions are subjecting thousands of women and girls to “grave and systematic violations of rights”. The report recommended the urgent repeal of sections 58-59 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act – a law that applies throughout the UK and threatens women who end a pregnancy without legal authorisation with life imprisonment. Our #WeTrustWomen campaign calls for this piece of legislation to be repealed – sign up here for updates. #Repeal campaign gathers pace South of the border, meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland is preparing for a historic referendum abortion. Irish expats are being encouraged to travel #HomeToVote this May to repeal Ireland’s draconian laws, which ban abortion unless a woman’s life is at risk. If you have travelled from the Republic of Ireland for a termination, please tell us about it (anonymously if you prefer) – your testimony will help the campaign for #repeal. Home Office consultation closes, as 40 Days For Life resumes clinic protests The government consultation on abortion clinic protests has now closed and they are reviewing the evidence. We were overwhelmed by the response – over 1600 people used the Back Off website to tell the Home Office what they think. Meanwhile, 40 Days For Life resumed its “vigils” across the UK on 14 February, which means 40 days of intimidation for our patients and staff. There is compelling evidence these protests cause serious distress: we urge the government to act. Major hospital trust bans elective caesareans Oxford University Hospitals will not offer caesareans to women on request, even if they have had a traumatic labour in the past. UK charity Birthrights has received testimonies from several women who were denied an elective caesarean, flouting NICE guidelines. We agree with Birthrights that this “denies women the individual respect and consideration they are entitled to”. Women must be given evidence-based information, and their choices must be respected.
Boots finally cuts the price of emergency contraception Almost a year after we first wrote to them, Boots has finally reduced the cost of emergency contraception to £15.99 across all its UK stores. We are so pleased that Boots is now offering a more affordable version of this product, which gives women a second chance to avoid an unintended pregnancy. However, other barriers that prevent access to EC remain in place, including a medically unnecessary consultation. Click here to join the next phase of our campaign for swift, easy access to EC. Government launches consultation on buffer zones As our Back Off campaign gathers pace, the government has launched a consultation into anti-abortion clinic protests. Home Secretary Amber Rudd pledged to take action, saying, ‘It is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare’. Anybody can respond to the consultation – if you’d like to tell the government what you think, please email them using our quick online tool. Public backlash as anti-abortion MP is appointed Vice-Chair for Women There was public outcry in January after Maria Caulfield, the Conservative MP for Lewes who led the opposition to Diana Johnson’s decriminalisation bill last year, was appointed Conservative Vice-Chair for Women. We were incredibly disappointed by the decision, and the negative response to her appointment was reported by the Telegraph, BuzzFeed, the Sun and even the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, X-Files actress Gillian Anderson – whilst in Hollywood unveiling her Walk of Fame star – denounced the decision as “a huge, monumental, devastating step backwards.” The public reaction makes it clear: if you want to represent women, you must support decriminalisation. New guidelines for Relationships and Sex Education Following their decision that Relationships and Sex Education will be compulsory in English schools from 2019, the government is consulting the public on what the lessons should include. They are especially interested in views of young people, teachers and parents – if you’d like to respond, please click here for more information. Champion of Choice This month’s Champion is actress Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, alongside the entire cast of new drama I told my mum I was going on an RE trip. This honest, moving play tells real women’s experiences of abortion, and was broadcast on BBC2 earlier this month. Catch up on iPlayer here.