Women from the most deprived background are three times more likely to have abortions
An analysis published in the Guardian highlights that women from the most deprived backgrounds are almost three times more likely to have abortions than women from the wealthiest backgrounds, and the gap has worsened during the pandemic.
Despite clinical evidence that demonstrates pills by post is a safe and effective model of care, the government are currently considering revoking permission for the service, which would effectively lead to the re-criminalisation of these women.
The pandemic has deepened existing inequality across the UK. If the government revokes telemedical abortion care, women from deprived communities will suffer the most. All women need care, not criminalisation.
Help us keep this essential service legal, here.
HFEA data highlights fertility inequalities for Black, Asian and minority ethnic patients
Data released by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) shows that Black fertility patients have the lowest chance of success, and they are also less likely than white patients to have their treatment funded by the NHS.
Our Director of Embryology, Marta Jansa Perez, says this important report must be the start of a long process of research, to understand the reasons behind the disparities and promote equal access to fertility services for all patients.
The US-based anti-abortion group 40 Days for Life has begun the latest 40-day long “vigils” outside abortion clinics across the country, causing significant distress for thousands of women and healthcare professionals.
Despite the introduction of telemedicine, around half of all women we see attend a clinic at some stage in their treatment. Those who do are likely to be particularly vulnerable, including those with safeguarding concerns and women ending a wanted pregnancy due to a diagnosis of a fetal anomaly.
In good news, Manchester City Council has voted to establish a buffer zone around a local clinic that has suffered years of protests. We are cautiously celebrating – buffer zones in other areas of the country have seen protest activity reduce significantly – however, they are difficult to implement and there have been legal challenges from anti-abortion groups at every turn. Meanwhile, the protesters can simply relocate to the next clinic.
We need a national solution to a national problem. You can read more about the impact of the protests here and also find ways to get involved here.
Telemedical abortion services
Temporary COVID-19 measures allow women to access abortion medication lawfully at home, which thousands of women have already benefited from. As a result of the pressure many of you brought to bear during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Government has committed to consulting on continuing remote provision of early abortion services. We will be in touch soon on how you can support this.
Early medical abortion care has been one of the few healthcare successes of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing waiting times and with it the average gestation at which an abortion is performed. All evidence supports the continuation of this service and we look forward to demonstrating the clear benefits to women. You can read more about one woman’s experience in Cosmopolitan here, and why she wants the service to continue.
We have been documenting the worrying extent of the IVF postcode lottery and its consequences for patients. Our research found that Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England restrict access to NHS-funded fertility treatments for non-clinical reasons, including arbitrary age restrictions, BMI, or the fact their partner has a child from a previous relationship.
The Sunday Times published our findings, also noting that some CCGs are denying IVF to patients based on their relationship status. If individuals are single or have not lived with their partner for what the CCG determines to be long enough, then they may not qualify for funded treatment. Different CCGs require different levels of commitment, including evidence of shared bank accounts and varying numbers of years of partnership.
We believe that access to any form of healthcare should be rooted in clinical evidence. It’s deeply unfair that systemic problems with funding have created a fertility pot-luck, with devastating consequences for some patients.
Our #FairIVF campaign calls for a standardisation across CCGs in line with NHS guidance to end harmful discrepancies. This unfair system needs to change. You can email your MP asking them to support #FairIVF here.
Alongside our ongoing research and advocacy for #FairIVF provision in the NHS and patient-centred fertility care, we have also created BPAS Fertility. We believe that if individuals do need to self-fund their treatment, they should have access to evidence-based, ethical, high-quality care, without paying extortionate prices. From 2021 we will provide a safe, accessible, high-quality service at not-for-profit prices.
Our Director of Embryology, Marta Jansa Peres, explains more:
We also want to know how this pandemic has affected fertility patients. If you’re going through IVF or fertility treatment, you can take our short survey sharing your experience here.
FASD – Draft Quality Standards
NICE have reopened a postponed consultation their Draft Quality Standards on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), with closes on September 18th. We are deeply concerned about the implications for women of these proposals. Under the measures, a woman will be asked at every antenatal appointment about any alcohol she has drunk, and the information transferred – without her consent being sought – to her child’s medical records. There is simply no robust evidence of harm to the pregnancy at lower levels of consumption so we cannot understand how a woman’s right to medical privacy could be overridden in this way.
As we’ve published in the BMJ, we believe this is a misplaced focus. These proposals are made without reference to informed consent or any potential consequences and harms that could arise from this framework. We support greater assistance for those affected by alcohol consumption in pregnancy, but we do not believe these proposals will achieve that goal and we can see how they will seriously undermine women’s own rights in pregnancy.
The NICE consultation on their Quality Standards on FASD runs until 18th September. Please do drop us an email at email@example.com if you would like to know more about our concerns.
Have you been pregnant or given birth since 12th March?
We are interested in how messages about risk, COVID-19, and pregnancy have been communicated to you, and your experiences of maternity services during the pandemic. If you feel comfortable sharing your experience, please consider taking our survey here.
My Body My Life survey
Have you need an abortion during Covid-19? If so, MyBodyMyLife, a project supported by BPAS, would like to hear from you. If you would like to contribute, are aged 16+ and based in UK or Ireland please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
NI abortion regulations finally passed in Parliament!!
Today, Parliament passed the regulations that govern abortion care in Northern Ireland. This was the final Parliamentary step and it passed with a vote of 253 to 136.
We want to thank all of the MPs who voted in favour of the regulations, as well as all of our supporters who have joined the campaign over a number of years. To celebrate the decriminalisation of abortion in NI, we are sending a copy of this #NowForNI print to everyone who signs up to support our work by becoming a Friend of BPAS.
In other news….
Fertility services begin resume
Last month fertility clinics were informed that they could reopen in the following weeks, as long as social distancing measures were in place. The pausing of fertility treatment, while necessary to combat COVID-19, has left thousands of patients worried about their chance to conceive. On BBC Women’s Hour this week, Dr Zeynep Gurtin and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority discussed how clinics can begin to reopen and how they will support patients at this incredibly confusing and difficult time – listen here.
Campaigners call for greater protection for pregnant BAME women during COVID-19
As research from Public Health England confirms that BAME individuals are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, there is a call for greater protection for BAME pregnant women during the response. Recent data shows that 55% of pregnant women in the UK admitted to hospital between 1 March to 14 April with coronavirus were from BAME backgrounds. While all pregnant women are currently classed as clinically vulnerable, campaigners are calling for BAME expectant mothers to be classed as “clinically extremely vulnerable” to force employers to provide better safeguards.
A compelling video report from the US in the Guardian explores BAME women’s experience of pregnancy and labour in the US, with one woman stating that they were “afraid to go into the hospital and this was before even now COVID-19, now it’s scarier.’’ Watch the full report here.
Finally, if you are in the UK and are pregnant or trying to conceive during the current pandemic, we would like to hear from you! To take part in our survey, click here.
That’s all for now – but watch this space, because we will have important news about the campaign to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales very soon…
Buffer zones successes!
Last month 2246 of you sent emails to MPs across the country in favour of introducing buffer zones through our Back Off campaign. Earlier this week Sarah Olney MP for Richmond Park kick-started the fight for new legislation that would introduce buffer zones to prevent these protests. This another step forward towards Parliament recognising the need for the buffer zones.
We are also delighted to announce that an anti-abortion activist’s attempt to challenge the Ealing clinic buffer zone has been denied by the Supreme Courts. We are hopeful that this ruling will empower more councils to take action and introduce their own buffer zones.
However, there is a long way to go yet. You can do your part by emailing your MP now to seek their support.
Alternatively, if you have been directly affected by an anti-abortion clinic protest and you feel comfortable speaking to a journalist about your experience, please email email@example.com.
Share your experience of privately funded IVF
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently developing guidance for IVF clinics in the UK, to ensure patients are treated fairly as they undergo IVF – and to address concerns that some clinics are mis-selling services. If you have undertaken self-funded IVF in the UK and are comfortable sharing your experience, please take a few minutes to take our short survey.
Celebrate International Women’s Day with us
This year’s International Women’s Day theme was Each for Equal. BPAS were proud to be a part of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists conference to discuss the differences in maternity and gynaecology care experienced by women because of their race. We are committed to keeping women at the centre of our care and are dedicated to fighting any form of inequality in healthcare.
We are continuing the celebrations as March is also Women’s History Month. Throughout the month we will be sharing stories from our staff who are dedicated to upholding women’s rights to access reproductive healthcare. You can follow along on our social media platforms!
Inquiry into why women are being denied epidurals
We have been working to raise awareness of the denial of choice in childbirth and we are pleased that our work with the Telegraph newspaper led to a Government inquiry. This was launched by the Department of Health and Social Care and has found that women were being refused epidurals during labour. While we are glad that this issue is being taken seriously by the Government, we believe it is important to understand what is driving this decrease in the use of pain relief. We have collaborated with Birthrights to write a letter to Nadine Dorries MP, Health Minister, asking her to address these findings. You can read our letter here.
The Gibraltar abortion referendum
We visited Gibraltar ahead of their upcoming abortion referendum being held on 19th March. The current law within Gibraltar prohibits all abortions unless the woman’s life is at risk, and BPAS have been working continuously with pro-choice networks campaigning for a change to the current legislation. The bill put forward does not go as far as we would like, however we recognise the change and any steps towards a less restricted abortion service.
You can see more of our discussions here.
Champion of Choice!
Ealing Council were buffer zones pioneers, and we were so pleased that the Supreme Court has denied a legal challenge to the safe zone they have created for women and healthcare providers. Ealing Council have dedicated significant time and resources to creating and upholding the buffer zone, and because of their actions other councils are following suit. Thank you, Ealing Council!
New clinic protests
This weekend, 45 protesters assembled outside BPAS Finsbury Park and stood outside for several hours, intimidating the women using our service. The protesters had large banners and monks’ robes, and were seen following women, shouting at them that they “love them”, stopping them as they left the clinic, repeatedly approaching them as they tried to walk away, and pushing leaflets through car windows.
This has got to stop. Sajid Javid MP’s decision in 2018 not to introduce buffer zones at a national level means there is little the police can do. Please email your MP now to seek their support.
Foodbank baby formula ban
Following reports that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has ceased health visitor referrals to a local foodbank on the basis that it provides infant formula, we are supporting Feed UK’s #formulaisfood campaign. There is no contradiction between supporting women to breastfeed and ensuring mothers can access infant milk when they need it. Click here to sign Feed’s letter.
Pain relief in childbirth
An investigation by the Telegraph has found that women are being denied epidurals by the NHS amid a ‘cult of natural childbirth’, with one woman being told “it’s not called labour for nothing, it’s meant to be hard work”. We need better understanding of why women’s requests are refused or delayed in contravention of NICE guidance. We’ve joined Birthrights and PregnantThenScrewed to call for all women to have access to the pain relief they need in childbirth.
Who should you listen to for advice on drinking during pregnancy?
Following another slew of alarming stories in the press last week about drinking in pregnancy, we were really proud to see Grazia feature our work unpicking the science behind the headlines.
The WRISK project, which we run with Cardiff researcher Heather Trickey, looks at the risk messages women receive in pregnancy and their experiences navigating them. Our research has shown that women don’t mind the “better safe than sorry” approach, but they want evidence-based information – not scaremongering.
Event: Join us at the University of Kent on 18 March for a free seminar on Pregnancy in the Press – tickets here!
Calls to support best abortion care in Northern Ireland
UK medical bodies have called on the government to ensure a woman-centred framework in Northern Ireland. The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare wrote to the government, urging them to implement a framework rooted in the best clinical practice. We fully support their calls for a framework that would support Northern Irish doctors and midwives to do what’s best for their patients. Read their letter here.
Champion of choice
We were delighted to see Stella Creasy’s parliamentary researcher, Cara Sanquest, win the Prospect UK Parliamentary Researcher of the Year award. Cara is also one of the driving forces behind the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and a long-term campaigner for abortion rights in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The election result: what does it mean for reproductive choice?
We had a brilliant response to our My Pledge Her Choice campaign, with over 300 candidates from across all the main political parties signing up. A huge thank you to everybody who took part. We’re also delighted that so many pro-choice advocates from across the political spectrum have retained their seats, and we look forward to hearing from pro-reform Northern Irish MPs Stephen Farry and Claire Hanna too.
With so many brand new MPs in the Commons, we have plenty of work to do in the new year to engage them and ensure they represent the pro-choice majority. Stay tuned to hear how you can help.
“Better for Women”: new report from the RCOG calls for abortion to be decriminalised
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has called for abortion to be decriminalised in a new report, “Better for Women”, which also recommends better access to emergency contraception alongside several other measures to improve women’s health. You can read it here.
Improving access to the pill – can you help?
The MHRA is looking for patient representatives who currently use oral contraception and are over 18 to take part in a stakeholder meeting about improving access to contraceptive pills. It is a one-day commitment, with expenses paid. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stock up on emergency contraception this Christmas
Online pharmacy Dr Fox is now selling emergency contraception for just £3 – the lowest price we’ve seen. This illustrates just how cheaply the progesterone-only product can be produced and that women are still being ripped off by inflated prices in high street pharmacies.
With Christmas just around the corner, we’re recommending women buy emergency contraception to keep in the cupboard just in case – especially because we know lots of women can struggle to access their normal contraception over the festive period. You can purchase emergency contraception for £3 here.
We’re charity of the month in the British Journal of Midwifery
We are very proud to be the British Journal of Midwifery’s charity of the month. This issue’s “Charity Spotlight” feature highlights the tireless work our midwives do every day for women, whether it’s providing care in our clinics or advocating for legal reform. The piece is behind a pay wall, but here’s a quote from it by BPAS midwife Cheryl, along with a picture of our staff accepting a BJM award last year!
“Midwives have never sat back and accepted inequalities in healthcare provision. It is within our gift and our duty as advocates for women to push for change, to say that we trust women to make their own decisions, and that we will support them with the safest, highest quality care available. We will always be there to hold their hand, but with the other hand we must break the glass ceiling.”
– Cheryl, Midwife and Associate Director, BPAS
Champion of Choice
And finally, our last champion of choice this year is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who recently spoke to the BBC about how restrictive abortion laws impact the poorest women. Watch a clip here.
Buffer zones: flawed consultation ignored evidence
This week a coalition of medical bodies and charities, led by BPAS, is urging the Home Secretary to look again at the issue of clinic protests, in light of new evidence that the previous consultation was flawed.
Since the Home Office’s review last year (and subsequent decision not to intervene), 34 clinics across the country have had protesters outside their gates. Now, FOI documents have revealed that the Home Office’s final report completely ignored the evidence they received from medical colleges, and underplayed and misrepresented women’s experiences. Worst of all, a civil servant was recorded as stating, “there is need to be seen to do something but [we] don’t want to actually do something.”
Northern Ireland’s abortion law breaches human rights
In a ruling that surprised no one, the High Court in Belfast has ruled that Northern Ireland’s abortion law is incompatible with the UK’s human rights obligations. The case was brought by Sarah Ewart, who pursued the case for years after she was denied a termination in Northern Ireland.
The ruling came just in time, since Northern Ireland’s criminal sanctions for abortion will fall away later this month (unless the NI Executive reconvenes). We blogged for the Huffpost about what this all means for women in Northern Ireland.
Standing up for single parents
Last week we challenged NHS South East London on their policy to deny funded IVF services to single women because single parents “do not give the best outcome for the child.” Alongside charities Birthrights, IVF Fairness, IVF Babble and the Dovecote, we wrote an open letter urging them to reconsider this policy, which stigmatises single-parent families and contravenes NICE guidelines. Read our letter here.
Breastfeeding and the environment
We have teamed up with Feed UK and Dr Ellie Cannon to challenge a recent article published in the BMJ, which presented breastfeeding as an “environmental imperative”. Here’s an excerpt from our joint response, and you can read the full version here.
“By focusing on the suggested environmental benefits of breastfeeding over the use of infant formula the authors fail to hold the correct people to account for the issue – the producers – and instead place the onus on consumers, who are predominantly women. The responsibility for reducing whatever global climate burden is posed by infant formula should not come at the expense of women’s reproductive rights, which are inclusive of how women use their breasts.”
World Contraception Day
We celebrated World Contraception Day last month by calling for emergency contraception to be sold straight from the pharmacy shelf to improve access. Emergency contraception is a very safe but currently under-utilised – and stigmatised – resource. We blogged about why we should do everything we can to facilitate swift access to this safe, time-sensitive second chance to avoid an unwanted pregnancy – and not view it as a “marker of irresponsibility”.
Risk in pregnancy: what does it all mean?
The last few weeks have seen several headlines warning of the dangers everyday things can pose in pregnancy, ranging from taking paracetamol to feeling stressed. But how true are these headlines, and what does it all really mean? In our latest blog for the WRISK project, “What does ‘risk’ in pregnancy mean to you?”, Peter Tennant and Tomasina Stacey share their research on what risk means, and the misconceptions surrounding it.
Champions of Choice
Writer and advocate Claire has written a new play, inspired by her own experience of abortion. You can read her story here or buy tickets here.
‘A Womb of One’s Own’ runs from 19-23 November at the Pleasance, London.
Countdown to abortion rights in Northern Ireland
This week the government has confirmed that Northern Ireland’s criminal sanctions for abortion will fall away on 22nd October if no Assembly is formed. This means that, from next month, no woman will face criminal charges for ending her own pregnancy, and the ongoing prosecution of a mother who bought abortion pills for her young teenage daughter will at last be dropped. We are very hopeful that NI women will soon be free to make decisions about their own pregnancies, without risk of prosecution.
Buffer zones: legal challenge dismissed
The UK’s first ever buffer zone has been upheld by the Court of Appeal following a legal challenge. The buffer zone was introduced by Ealing Council last year after decades of anti-abortion activity outside a local clinic. The emphatic judgment confirmed that the buffer zone is legal, necessary and proportionate, based on substantial evidence that women’s privacy “was being very seriously invaded”.
We welcome this decision, but elsewhere protesters continue to target clinics up and down the country. We will continue to call for a nationwide solution so that women can access abortion services privately and free from intimidation, wherever they are.
Stress in pregnancy and personality disorders
This week, a slew of alarming headlines suggested that children exposed to stress in pregnancy are ten times more likely to develop a personality disorder. But is this a fair reflection of the science? The WRISK team at BPAS investigated and, sure enough, all was not as it seemed. The bottom line? Even if you are severely stressed in pregnancy, the study still shows you are unlikely to have a child with a personality disorder. Click here for a handy guide to the communication of risk, courtesy of the latest WRISK blog.
Women deserve better when it comes to IVF
Access to NHS fertility treatment is diminishing rapidly. Last month saw a fifth NHS group announce the indefinite suspension of fertility services, while a different NHS body was found to be banning single women from IVF on the basis they’re a “burden on society”. Yes, really.
Meanwhile, some private clinics have been profiteering from women’s anxieties, offering unproven add-on treatments to desperate women and couples at extortionate prices. Last month we called out London’s GetADrip clinics who were charging £250 for a so-called “fertility drip”. The drip has since been withdrawn, but the industry is rife with similar products. Women deserve better.
Emergency contraception and stigma
Emergency contraception (EC) is a significantly under-used resource, due to a combination of access barriers and stigma. In a new paper published in the journal Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, our Director of External Affairs Clare Murphy explained how the narrative around EC as a “marker of irresponsible female sexuality” has paved the way for a clunky clinical framework which places obstacles in women’s way, increasing the perception that EC is a risky product that shouldn’t be used. We are calling for EC to be available straight from the pharmacy shelf, to increase women’s access to this safe and essential second chance to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.
Are you passionate about women’s rights in pregnancy and maternity care? The fantastic Birthrights charity is seeking an interim Chief Executive – click the link for more details!
Alabama threatens abortion doctors with 99 years in prison
Today marks one year since the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal its abortion ban, but women living in Northern Ireland can still face life imprisonment for ending a pregnancy.
Since the news from Alabama broke last week, Northern Ireland’s law has once again been in the spotlight, and almost 30,000 people have emailed their MP to demand action. Please help us to keep up the pressure by emailing your MP and sharing the campaign with your family and friends. The time is #NowForNI.
Working with women in prisons
Our contraceptive counselling & well-woman advice service in Europe’s largest women’s prison, HMP Bronzefield, has been listed as a finalist for an RCNi Nurse Award. Our service provides confidential, non-judgemental counselling & education to enhance women’s wellbeing & rehabilitation.
Here’s a round-up of what we’ve been working on lately:
Emergency contraception home delivery service launched…for £45
Emergency contraception brand EllaOne has just launched a 3-hour home delivery service… for the eye-watering price of £45. Don’t get us wrong, EllaOne has done a lot right here: their #MyMorningAfter campaign brilliantly calls out the stigma around EC, and we applaud them for giving women the option to have EC swiftly delivered without having to undergo an embarrassing – and clinically unnecessary – consultation. But at £45, how accessible is this service really? Surely if women have to pay £45 to access EC without humiliation, something’s gone badly wrong. We want to see a completely new system where EC can be sold straight from the shelf – as already happens in the USA, Canada and many European countries – without a consultation, and for under a tenner.
Contradictory messages on fertility cause unnecessary worry
New data published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has revealed just how much we worry about our fertility – with over half of women, including nearly a quarter of young women, reporting concern. It is often suggested that women are unaware of their fertility decline and consequently risk ‘leaving it too late’, but the high level of anxiety in this study suggests otherwise.
Women are aware of all the things that may affect their fertility, from their age and weight to contraception and STIs. It’s time to acknowledge that overstating these risks is harmful too. At BPAS we see women who thought they were infertile due to having had chlamydia, or who stopped taking the pill because of (unfounded) fertility concerns – only to end up with an unplanned pregnancy. Women deserve responsible, evidence-based communication on this subject, and nothing less.
Activists march for NI women’s rights on St Patrick’s Day
In the same month it emerged that Northern Irish women are struggling to access terminations south of the border, Irish and UK activists marched in London on St Patrick’s Day to call for change. We were proud to join the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Sister Supporter, MPs Diana Johnson and Stella Creasy, the cast of Derry Girls and many others to call for an urgent change to Northern Ireland’s abortion law, which currently sees 28 women per week travel to England for treatment. We cannot let this continue. The time is #NowForNI.
Champion of Choice
Our champion of choice this month is Dr David Paintin, who passed away on 30th March. He was a committed obstetrician/gynaecologist and an inspiring advocate for women’s reproductive freedom across several decades, including in the 1960s before the Abortion Act was passed. He was also chair of the Birth Control Trust and a trustee here for many years. He’ll be sorely missed by all at BPAS.
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 has voted 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.