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Jennifer Reiter

A tribute to home-grown UK pro-choice activism

It was August 2008. I knew I was moving to the UK the following year and I needed to learn about the organisations involved in sexual and reproductive health (SRH) work as well as the campaigns dedicated to pro-choice advocacy and activism. I sent a fairly fruitless email to dozens of SRH organisations in London asking them to meet me for an informational interview. Do Brits know what an informational interview is? The only person who agreed to meet me was one brilliant woman called Kate from Education For Choice, who would later become my colleague. It was only when she greeted me in person that I discovered she was also American.

We had a lively, enlightening conversation in Cafe Oto. We talked about the latest reproductive justice news from the U.S. We had both been involved in pro-choice work in the fiercely divisive U.S. climate. We were used to security guards outside of abortion clinics, we were used to getting into ferocious arguments if someone asked us what we did, we were used to seeing  adult-height posters of aborted fetuses outside clinics, outside our high schools, on boulevards in the middle of downtown Chicago. Kate asked me if I worried about not having anything to rage against when I moved to the UK.

I wanted to live in a country where healthcare is a right, not a privilege. I’d been working on health inequalities projects for years. How on earth can health inequalities be addressed in a country where healthcare is not an inscribed right? This is just one of the many root causes of the reproductive injustices that vividly play out across the U.S.

It wasn’t long before there was something to rage against. The tide seemed to change when the new government came into power in 2010. Many of us working in the public and voluntary sectors felt its impact later that year. Soon Nadine Dorries (along with Frank Field) introduced amendments that would have stripped abortion providers of their counselling role. Dorries also proposed a motion that would have required schools to teach abstinence to girls only. And before you knew it, 40 Days for Life turned up on our shores.

So we held a rally outside the Houses of Parliament. And another one. A fabulous, feisty demonstration took place against Dorries’ abstinence bill for girls. The fantastically proactive Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance was founded and seems to have inspired a shiny new generation of pro-choice activists. The delightfully named 40 Days of Treats began delivering tasty treats to abortion providers to show support. And this very monumental blog, which has heard from pro-choice voices from a beautifully diverse range of genders, classes, ethnicities and faiths, began and has documented for all to see that we truly are the pro-choice majority.

 I raise my glass to the passionate, devoted and intelligent pro-choice advocates and activists that I’ve been inspired by, worked beside and learned from since I moved to the UK over three years ago. We have a lot to rage against these days but our dedication to abortion rights and reproductive justice will last a heck of a lot longer than 40 days.

By day Jennifer is a sexual health projects worker in London. At other times she is a volunteer for the Abortion Support Network. She tweets here.

Gail Teasdale

Commissioning services to improve children and young people’s sexual health is a challenging role. Many people are not comfortable seeing the words ‘sex’ and ‘young people’ in the same sentence. Having done this role for 10 years now I am used to evidencing why it’s important even if adults find it difficult. We all want our young people to grow up well informed with good communication skills so they can have happy, healthy relationships and access to contraception and other sexual health services when they need it. The strategy and services I put in place have reduced teenage pregnancy by 35% over 10 years. A key aspect of the strategy was ensuring all services were pro-choice, from what was taught in schools and training for staff working with young people, to the services providing condoms, pregnancy testing and access to contraception. All services commissioned had to have a pro-choice approach. I have also embedded a pro choice approach into polices of services I don’t commission e.g. youth services.

This was not without its challenges. I have been challenged on decisions made (sometimes by anti-choice services who wanted funding, sometimes by senior managers who had been lobbied by those groups), received hate mail and negative press. I have been accused of reducing teenage pregnancy by increasing access to abortion (despite the fact we are measured on conceptions not births). However I have maintained that if we really want to reduce the need for abortion we won’t achieve this by restricting knowledge or access but by ensuring young people are well informed and empowered with all the facts and that, when needed, access to abortion services are available in a safe and timely way. Sometimes it’s been suggested I should allow anti-choice projects an “equal opportunity” or platform for their views. In these situations I am reminded of the quote “a lie is not the other side of the story, its just a lie”. I am clear that anti-choice is not a balance with pro-choice. Pro-choice allows for all to make the choice that’s right for them at that time and in their particular circumstance. It offers information, guidance, access to services but ultimately the freedom to make an informed choice. I maintain it is a basic human right to ensure every persons has the right to make their own, informed choice about pregnancy free from coercion, distress and harassment and that has to be enshrined in any service commissioned not just for young people but for people of any age.

Gail is a commissioner for Children and Young People’s Services in Hull.

David Robert Grimes

Abortion is an emotive issue and all too often a deeply polarising one. Perhaps this is to be expected – people have the right to their own opinions. But people do not have a right to their own facts. In the ‘pro-life’ camp, truth is often the first casualty of war. One of the more odious examples of this is anti-choice sentiment masquerading as being “woman-centred” or rooted in science; ostensibly these campaigners claim their opposition to abortion is because abortion is damaging to women, a claim they’ll often try and support with some scary studies. But scratch the concerned facade and you’ll see the same zealotry and disregard for facts as the raging placard wavers. It is worth analysing the triumvirate of anti-choice claims to see exactly what the research says.

1. Claim: Abortion damages a woman’s mental health / increases suicide risk 

Many ‘pro-life’ groups claim women who opt for an abortion rather than carrying to term suffer mental maladies such as depression, suicide and other problems. A 2011 Danish New England Journal of Medicine study charted the psychological health of 365,550 women, including 84,620 who had had abortions and found zero increase in psychological damage among those who had had abortions and no elevated risk of suicide. 

Psychologist Dr Brenda Majors has published on the topic extensively and note that provided a woman was not depressive before an abortion, “elective abortion of an unintended pregnancy does not pose a risk to mental health”. This is supported by numerous studies and the scientific consensus is that elective abortion poses no risk to mental health. Despite this, the myth continues unabated as Dr Nada Stotland notes; “Currently, there are active attempts to convince the public and women considering abortion that abortion frequently has negative psychiatric consequences. This assertion is not borne out by the literature: the vast majority of women tolerate abortion without psychiatric sequelae”.

While women do not generally suffer long-term mental health effects due to abortion, short-term guilt and sadness was far more likely if the women had a background where abortion was viewed negatively or their decisions were decried – the kind of attitude fostered by ‘pro-life’ activists. Choice is the operative term here - there is plenty of evidence that forcing a woman to carry to term / terminate AGAINST her will is damaging. Anti-choice activists occasionally try to misrepresent the findings of smaller ambiguous studies, like Ferguson et al (2008) - which followed 500 women and concluded there may be very small mental health effect but  hard to call and they state ”..the results do not support strong pro-life positions that claim that abortion has large and devastating effects on the mental health of women..” . Tellingly, in the same text the authors note that the vast majority of the women interviewed later felt that abortion was the right choice for them. In contrast, the Danish study (Munk-Olsen et al 2011) followed up on over 300,000 women and found zero evidence that abortion damages mental health in women that opt for it, a finding that is important given larger sample groups have smaller errors.

Status: Claim is false

2. Claim: Abortion causes breast cancer

The abortion-breast cancer hypothesis originally was proposed in the 1980s, but successive trials and cohort studies have shown that there is zero medical link between abortion and breast cancer.  For all intents and purposes, this conjecture is dead in the water.. unless of course you’re a (usually American) pro-lifer. In fact, despite the fact that bodies as diverse as the World Health Organisation, The US National Cancer Institute, and both the American and Royal Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists explicitly stated no such link exists; American ‘pro-life’ lobbyists have campaigned to have it legally recognised. On the face of it this is darkly comic; the idea that anti-choice lobbyists would campaign to change biology should show how ridiculous the whole thing is. Yet during George W Bush’s administration, the US National Cancer Institute’s website was edited to state there may be a causal link, despite there being no evidence for this and plenty against it. This is the odious reality of pro-life campaigns that are ostensibly “woman centred”. There is something particularly galling about this one; although breast cancer is in reality quite a survivable cancer with a generally good prognosis, it has an emotional impact that terrifies many women and it is difficult to see this particular myth as anything more than a crass attempt to manipulate and terrify.

Status: Claim is false

3. Claim: Abortion causes infertility

Elective medical abortion does not cause infertility, but unsafe abortion can certainly affect future fertility - it can also lead to death. If anti-choice activists are so keen to save the lives and reproductive health of women, this certainly seems markedly at odds with the reality of the situation.

Status: Claim is false

Anti-choice groups who claim they’re against abortion because they care about women are either entirely misguided or obnoxiously insincere; if they really valued the feelings of women one would wonder why they insist on scaremongering and outright lying to women who are often having to make difficult, heart-breaking choices.  They have every right to personally oppose abortion on ethical or religious grounds, but no right to misrepresent science to bolster their ideological position, nor indeed do they have the right to inflict their ethical or religious positions upon other people by making baseless assertions designed to terrify. Pseudoscientific scaremongering is not helpful or caring, and should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves.

Dr. David Robert Grimes is a medical physicist with a keen interest in the public understanding of science. He keeps a science and medicine blog at www.davidrobertgrimes.com and occasionally writes opinion pieces for the Irish Times.

Nicky Clark

An article in the Irish Examiner on 11 October 2012 reported that a guest speaker at children’s mass in County Cork, Ireland, detailed her abortion and stated that because of this abortion, she was “punished by God by having a grandchild with special needs”.

There were disabled children at the service and parents left the mass feeling horrified.

As Ireland is currently living through changing times around abortion, the emotive ideology deployed by some campaigning groups, are conflating the issues of abortion and disability and seeking to make a linear argument of cause and effect .

This notion is not new. In February 2010 Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall speaking at a press conference against state funding for Planned Parenthood said this:

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.

In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”  

Again this discriminatory notion played to the idea of “punishment” through disability. It would be easy to sideline Marshall as a “crack pot” but the worry is that in the battle to allow women control over their own bodies, politicians of faith here in the UK are also stepping forward with restrictions.

Jeremy Hunt, recently made Health Secretary, stated his views on the reduction of the limit for abortion in the UK. He proposed that the limit be reduced from 24 to 12 weeks.

This is a time when the issue of women’s rights globally should be talked about as much as possible to ensure all views are heard without fear of reprisal. Emotive propaganda may vent faith-based views, but they destabilise themselves in the face of calm objective science, which easily negates emotive based opinion offered as “fact”.

As an atheist my view is clear. I choose to live my life to the dictates of my conscience not religious rules. I support and endorse a woman’s right to choose and as a disability rights campaigner I speak out against stigmatising attitudes towards disabled people which contribute to disability hate crime, which we have seen rise exponentially in the UK in the last 12 months.

Ultimately disabled people are not the whipping boy for government, or fringe faith groups, or anyone else. The institutions of church and government exist to serve people, not the other way around.

This manipulation of health and wellbeing through the prism of hysterical fundamentalism whilst asserting an affirmation of love and compassion, offers us only the lasting idea that they do not speak as a conduit for faith or decency.

It is quite simply obscene to suggest that anyone, irrespective of his or her ability or disability, is the manifest atonement for anything and it is beyond offensive to expect any right thinking person to accept that disabled people be degraded, stigmatised and dragged pejoratively into the debate.

Nicky is a disability rights campaigner and writer.

Katy Ladbrook

Pro-Choice and Christian

Sanctimonious godbotherers, 40 Days for Life, are coming to the end of their latest prayerathon against abortion. They might seem fairly harmless as they kneel in vigil outside clinics. Don’t be fooled. In America this group has closed down services and stopped women from making appointments.

I’m a seasoned pro-choice activist and I’m also a Christian. I can maintain these two principles very comfortably; however it is very uncomfortable to be associated with my religion’s atrocious record on sexual and reproductive rights. Love, sexuality, family and relationships are the most meaningful and positive aspects of life, and I feel that as a Christian as well as a supporter of human rights. The idea of abusing these rights is perverse and completely contradicts my beliefs.

My Christian beliefs are just that; they’re just beliefs, they’re just mine. They don’t deserve special respect because they are rooted in religion. I shouldn’t expect anyone else to share them and I certainly don’t get to force them on people. When 40DfL demonstrate against abortion in the name of Christ, they assert that this is a Christian act (it’s not) and that this gives them authority to condemn women (it doesn’t).

Furthermore, 40DfL are assuming that Christianity is meaningful to the women they rant at. Has it occurred to them how irrelevant their beliefs are to someone who doesn’t believe in God? When they draw on references in scripture to advocate the sanctity of life, I guess they’re attempting to inspire women to accept their unplanned pregnancy as a little miracle, an unexpected gift from God. They are so righteous and convinced by their beliefs that abortion is a sin, that they cannot imagine how people see it any other way.

The women going into BPAS have already made their decisions; they’re not looking for spiritual guidance. 40DfL would be in no position to offer practical support to a pregnant woman if she did turn around and ask for it. I think on some level these one-trick ponies know their protest is futile. They just want to hurt women for making their own decisions and not being slaves to controlling beliefs.

40DFL have every right to view abortion as a sin, but they cannot pretend that this is a widely held Christian view. If they want to end abortion they can lobby to change policy, but back off the clinics and stop attacking individual women. We pro-choicers know very well how important it is to accept that people hold a variety of views on abortion and should be allowed to follow their own conscience free from harassment.

As a Christian I find it horrible to see people holding up my scripture and using my forms of worship to try to shame women. If they want to pray to end abortion, then go for it, pray at home or in your church. Don’t use those prayers as a way to bash women who don’t think like you.

These actions misrepresent the majority of Christians who are pro-choice. It also leaves a lot of people assuming that Christians are anti-choice. The majority of us are not. Nor are the majority of us anti-contraception, anti-woman, homophobic or abuse apologists. It’s just that many of the over-privileged white men who represent us are. Sound familiar?

Katy has a website, it’s here.

Joyce Arthur

For 25 years, Canada has had no legal restrictions on abortion whatsoever – not even any gestational limits. From my perspective as a Canadian, the UK’s current debate over the proposed reduction in its legal time limit for an abortion is way off-base.

Politicians and the media seem trapped by the assumption that some kind of abortion law is necessary and they just need to decide what the limits are. In reality, the best solution is full decriminalization, because all anti-abortion laws are unjust, harmful, and useless – including the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act.

The case of Canada

Canada is the first country in the world to prove that abortion care can be ethically and successfully managed as part of standard healthcare practice, without being controlled by any civil or criminal law. (Two Australian states have also successfully decriminalized abortion in recent years.)

Since 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada threw out our abortion law as unconstitutional, the sky has not fallen, but our abortion rates have – we’ve witnessed a decline since 2000 and now have a relatively low abortion rate compared to many other developed countries – about 14 abortions per 1000 women of childbearing age per year.

That rate is still a bit higher than some western European countries, which reflects the need to decrease further the number of unwanted pregnancies. Nevertheless, Canada’s teen birth and abortion rate declined 37 per cent between 1996 and 2006, primarily because of better access to effective contraception. In other words, declines in abortion rates are not related to anti-abortion laws, but mostly to the availability of contraception in a country. The only effective and just strategy for reducing abortion is to help women avoid unwanted pregnancy.

Despite the lack of a gestational limit law in Canada, 90 per cent of abortions occur during the first trimester, and less than half a percent after 20 weeks. The latter are all for compelling reasons, such as fetal abnormalities incompatible with life or a serious threat to the woman’s health or life. Sound familiar? That’s because the same pattern of abortion practice repeats itself naturally in any country where services are reasonably accessible – independently of any laws.

The majority of women present as early as they can for an abortion, and a tiny number of women will always need later abortions because of dire circumstances. Banning later abortions in the UK would do nothing to prevent the need for them – but it would be profoundly cruel.

The ‘upper limit’ argument

The notion that a legal gestational limit is required to stop later abortions is not just untrue, it’s also moralistic and patronising. Anti-choice groups in Canada claim that women can have abortions right up to the ninth month of pregnancy for any reason, on the apparent assumption that women are stupid and doctors are irresponsible. But Canada’s abortion practice is not an unregulated free-for-all – it’s properly governed by policies of the Canadian Medical Association, codes of ethics, clinical protocols, and the medical discretion of healthcare professionals – just as it is for all healthcare.

Criminal or civil law is inappropriate in medicine because it puts legislators in the operating room and gives them veto power over medical decisions made by doctors and patients. No other healthcare treatment is subject to such dangerous political interference, and abortion should not be either.

The UK debate over reducing the time limit is a perennial one that will keep coming back over and over again, because an abortion law – even a so-called liberal one – is a gift to anti-choice politicians. Not only does it provide a solid anchor from which to lobby for and pass more restrictions, it’s often used as a weapon against providers and women.

The recent ‘sting’ operations against abortion clinics and providers in the UK are a case in point. Examples abound from other countries, such as in New Zealand, where the anti-choice movement has gone to court with accusations that the two ‘certifying consultants,’ required under that country’s law to approve abortions, have been illegally rubber-stamping almost all requests.

But the problem is not whether the consultants are interpreting the law too broadly, the problem is the law itself – just as in the UK with its pointless legal requirement for two doctors’ permission. Women should have a fundamental right to abortion on request without having to state a reason or obtain approval from anyone.

‘Fetal viability’ is irrelevant

Much of the debate in the UK media has focused on the science of fetal viability and at what gestation they can survive on their own. This issue is totally irrelevant to women who need abortion care, as the survival ability of premature babies applies only to fetuses being carried to term. If a woman needs an abortion, then by definition, her fetus is not viable.

Abortion care must be focused solely on the woman’s health and needs, because without a willing and able pregnant woman, the fetus has no standing – and there is nothing the state can or should do about it.

When we focus on the fetus, we forget about the woman and her reasons for an abortion. Women don’t ask for an abortion because it’s their ‘right to choose,’ or because they don’t understand what’s inside of them. They request abortion because they can’t provide responsibly for a child (or another child) at this point in their lives.

A woman’s abortion decision is about ensuring her future and that of her family, not about the current legal or moral status of her fetus. It’s about being the best mother possible when she’s ready – or maybe not becoming a mother at all if she knows she’s not suited to it. That is the very definition of conscientious decision-making. We can trust women to know what’s best for themselves and their families, without imposing punitive criminal laws against their private decisions.

Joyce Arthur is the founder and Executive Director of Canada’s national pro-choice group, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.

(This blog is cross-posted, with permission, from Abortion Review)

Annie Tidbury

Abort 67, coming to a campus near you

Earlier this week, the anti-choice campaign group Abort 67 staged a protest at Sussex University. You’ve probably heard of this particular bunch of anti-choicers before - they’re somewhat infamous for their bullying tactics and can often be found harassing people who try to enter clinics, armed with hugely misleading anti-choice propaganda and graphic images of aborted foetuses. They have also been known to film members of the public. All these tactics have one thing in common – they are deliberately designed to distress those subjected to them.

It’s bad enough that such a group exists in the world, but it gets worse. Whilst Abort 67 was at Sussex University, one student who spoke to them learned that they are planning to target more universities in the future. Listed by name were Nottingham, Cambridge, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol, with Nottingham being the next. Yep, that’s right. They’re planning an anti-choice university tour.

So now the group has suddenly set their sights on harassing students, it’s interesting to ask why. When Abort 67 protests outside clinics, their vile logic is clear - they’re hoping to intimidate people at their most vulnerable. But when they appear on university campuses I think they do so with a completely different mindset.

Like my university (UCL), some of those named by Abort 67 have official pro-choice policy in place within their student unions. And we only make up a small part of a nation-wide pro-choice student movement. This explains why any university may now be in for a visit from Abort 67 – unlike the people they target outside clinics they do not see us as ‘vulnerable’, but rather as powerful. If the whole situation were not so sickening it would almost be flattering. We’ve put up enough of a fight thus far for them to want to try and beat us back down.

Over the past few years the student pro-choice movement has been growing stronger and stronger, no wonder Abort 67 are beginning to get worried. But we all know that anti-choice groups have no place on university campuses. If you want to take a stand against Abort 67 there are several things you can do:

- Pass a motion within your Union noting the protest in Sussex and condemning Abort 67’s bullying tactics. This motion could involve calling upon your student union to help publicise or fund a retaliation should the group arrive. For help with this, try getting in contact with your Union’s Women’s Officer or Welfare Officer.

- If the group do arrive on your campus then stage a counter protest. Use banners, noise and be creative! Sussex students also had the good idea of covering up the images Abort 67 use.

- Help publicise counter-protests and support the universities around you.

- Spread the word that universities are likely to be targeted. It’s particularly important that we get the message to students at the universities listed by Abort 67.

Attacks on the right to choose - from the government, from the media and from anti-abortion protest groups - are coming thick and fast. Abort 67 has actually given us an important reminder, if one were needed, that students need to be at the forefront of the fight for reproductive rights. 

Annie goes by @hurrumble on Twitter.

Heather Corinna

This year, it’s now been 20 years since my abortion.

I hadn’t realized until this week that was the case.  Despite being something that made a huge impact on my life — or rather, kept a pregnancy at the time from having at the huge impact on my life it would have — it’s simply not an anniversary I keep all that aware of.

I’m pretty certain that’s not because I’m heartless, I’m not.  Nor is it because children are so irrelevant to me that that choice was meaningless to me on that score. My love and care for children, and how much I enjoy having them as a big part of my life, was the hardest part of that choice for me.  I’ve been a dedicated teacher for over 20 years, I’m a child and adolescent advocate, and I consider my standing as Auntie Extraordinaire with the utmost import. On the whole, I’ve easily spent more than 50% of my life to date helping, guiding, and caring for other people’s children. I simply am not a parent, and knew then, as I knew since and still know know, that personally reproducing wasn’t the right choice for me.

Ultimately, I think the reason my abortion less significant than it might be otherwise is because 20 years ago, when I had an abortion, the culture and community surrounding me in that choice were far more supportive of it than the culture, and many communities, people in the same position are surrounded with now.

When I discovered I had become accidentally pregnant, I knew I had choices, and I knew — not believed, knew — all of those choices were possible, good, right options.  I was able to easily reach out and talk with other people about making my decision, including two mothers of children at a school I ran at the time. I didn’t feel fear or anxiety about telling people I trusted, about asking for help, and I didn’t feel concerned that anyone I talked to wouldn’t be supportive of any choice I wanted to make.  I didn’t worry that if I said I was thinking about abortion anyone I spoke with would lose respect for me, would abuse me, would degrade me, would try and talk me into what they wanted. All of those conversations went well: all were supportive and helpful. I was with a  partner who I knew from the onset, even though we hadn’t really discussed it, would be supportive of whatever choice I made. And even with feelings about this choice that weren’t in perfect alignment, those divides were something we were able to work out with care and respect.

When I decided on abortion, I knew I had access to abortion, even though I also knew I was going to have to struggle to come up with the money to pay for it, just like I had to struggle to come up with any amount of money more than $20.  I didn’t wonder if i had the legal right to terminate or not: it was a given. Of course I did. I didn’t wonder if there was a provider I could easily get to by walking or the bus: of course there was, and I just looked up my options in the phone book — where the only services listed under abortion were, in fact, abortion services — choosing a provider just a couple miles away from my apartment.  I didn’t worry about accidentally winding up at a crisis pregnancy center instead of a clinic: they didn’t exist yet.  

I knew there would probably be some protestors, and there were, but I felt so personally and culturally supported in making my choices, and I knew there would be clinic escorts, to help if I needed, that I knew walking through then would be something I could handle easily. And it was.  For the young woman walking in with me for whom it was more challenging, I stepped up, the escorts stepped up.  Even someone unsupported could count on the kindness of strangers.

I didn’t worry much about my safety or that of my provider: the year before, and early in 1992, clinic violence was low.  (It would, as it turned out, massively increase later that year.) Oddly enough, later that same year, the Supreme Court also ruled on Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, allowing states to put more restrictions on abortion.

I knew that however I felt after my procedure, it was okay, and I knew that without having to read anything on the internet or in books, without having to have a counselor at the clinic tell me that.  I knew that if I felt relieved, as I did, that that would be supported by the people around me.  I knew that if I felt at all sad, and I also did, that would, too.  I knew that however I felt, I did not have to worry about anyone around me…. those feelings to try and further a personal agenda. I knew that no matter how I felt, no one I trusted would try and capitalize on it. I knew that if I didn’t feel well for a day or two after, I could call any of my friends and ask for them to come by and bring me soup or just sit with me. 

And I knew that I got to decide how important or unimportant my abortion was to me then and thereafter: that it was up to me, and that whatever import it did or didn’t have? It was okay. 

I know that all of that, all of how my experience was, is becoming more and more rare, and has been becoming so for some time.  I’ve been watching that change ever since like watching a highway accident in slow motion. What I describe from 20 years ago is an experience of abortion when it is normalized and respected as a choice: normalized and respected by a person, by a culture and community.

While that certainly would not have been the universal or unilateral experience of everyone who chose abortion then, it certainly was far, far more common, I’d say, than it is for nearly anyone, anywhere, now.

Every year, I hear from young people who have become pregnant accidentally or unwontedly, and what I hear is probably what reminds me most of exactly how many years it has been since my abortion, and how very much has changed: not for the better.

So many of these things I simply knew — that I would be supported, that I would be okay, that I would be able to access the abortion services I decided I wanted — are things that so many, now, don’t know.  Sometimes they aren’t sure.  Often times, they are sure: they’re sure they will not be supported, not by friends, family or partners.  They have to think hard to come up with even one person they know who will be supportive.  Some cannot think of even that one.  And if they don’t have the money on their own?  If you can’t think of even one person who will be supportive of your choice, that takes asking each of your friends for ten or twenty bucks to help you right off the table. 

Sometimes they are sure abortion is their own best right choice, and that they will be okay… until they receive misinformation masquerading as care or science about how wrong they are that they’ll be okay.  That they’ll become infertile or ill from a procedure infinitely less associated with infertility and illness than childbirth, for example, or that they’ll become traumatized from something which is often entirely nontraumatic unless some “caring” outsider puts trauma unto it. Sometimes, all they need to do to hear misinformation about reproduction, pregnancy and abortion is to turn on the news and overhear a government representative.

Sometimes they have no idea if they even have the legal right — particularly as minors or undocumented citizens — to obtain an abortion, and if they do, don’t have any idea of where a nearby provider is: or IF there is a nearby provider at all. In many cases, there isn’t one:  in the United States, as of this year, in 87% of counties lack abortion services. Some talk about having thought they found a provider, only to discover they were instead defrauded by a crisis pregnancy center. Some go to a clinic to terminate a pregnancy, only to have family members, partners or friends show up to bully them out of it. Some come to clinics alone, and talk about how they have had to lie, and will need to continue to lie, to everyone in their lives about being pregnant and choosing to terminate, because if they told even one person around them the truth, they wouldn’t be able to make the choice they want to.  Sometimes those same people were protesting in front of the same clinic the week before.

The right to safe, legal abortion in the United States has always been tenuous since we achieved it, but over the last 20 years, it not only has it become more tenuous than ever, but it has been chipped away in tiny pieces — and some big ones — so consistently, both via public policy and public sentiment, that it seems highly unlikely right now that most people who choose to have an abortion will know the things I knew, or have the experience I had, including the experience of having a procedure carry only as much weight as they want to give it themselves.

I don’t just feel that everyone should have the right to a safe, legal abortion which they can access and afford.  I feel everyone should have the right to an abortion which has as much meaning, or as little, to them as it does, and the regard and respect of those around them — be they family, friends or partners, or over aching culture and public policy — to, of course, freely afford them that right.

Heather is the founder and executive director of Scarleteen, a young people’s sex education site based in the States.

Education For Choice

What does a pro-choice education project *do*?

The 40 Days of Choice campaign is about raising awareness. We’ve been lucky enough to have 30 brilliant bloggers (and counting!) write about pro-choice topics relating to health, religion, morality, motherhood and the rest. The 40 Days of Choice campaign is also about raising funds. Some generous souls have already donated (often a pound for each day anti-choice protestors stand outside clinics) and now we’re asking you to do the same.

But before you part with your hard-earned cash we want to give you a bit of insight into what it is we actually do. We’re a niche project, and as our patron Polly Toynbee points out in this promotional film, we’re small but we pack a huge punch. When this film was made we had three full time staff and a scruffy office on the Holloway Road. EFC is now down to one full time staff member, a part-time freelancer and a couple of desks inside Brook’s office. We are a project within Brook, but are a totally self-financing entity. That means that on top of all the project work we do (see below) we also have to do our own fundraising. This should be easy really shouldn’t it? A mere £50,000 a year would pay for everything we currently do. This is a drop in the ocean considering how many people we are able to work with, the quality of our work and the years of experience and knowledge we bring to all we do. It’s a drop in the ocean compared to the income of LIFE, SPUC, Care Confidential and all the other anti-choice organisations. (FYI Life just got almost £300,000 from the Big Lottery Fund).

So what does an EFC week look like?

Delivering a training day: Over the years we’ve trained over 3,000 youth workers, nurses, teachers, and midwives across England to provide evidence-based education sessions on abortion for young people  in schools and youth groups, and one-to-one support with decision-making for hundreds of thousands of young people.

Facilitating school workshops:We’ve worked with tens of thousands of young people over the years to provide them with quality education workshops on pregnancy decision-making and abortion.

Finalising our report on the current state of abortion education in schools. This report raises important issues the government and school governors should consider, about the kind of ‘education’ and ‘information’ young people in our schools are exposed to and what this means in terms of educational ethics, as well as young people’s health and wellbeing.

Responding to a request from a sixth form college to debate with Abort 67:we gave the college a whole load of reasons why they should retract their invitation to Abort 67 – which they have now done – hooray! Sometimes teachers are keen to create a lively debate without thinking through the real implications and consequences for the students of exposing them to inappropriate materials and speakers, or giving credibility to such organisations.

Advocacy and press work: responding to some of the vast amount of press given to Ministerial statements on abortion; keeping up with the antics of the 40 Days for Life vigil-antis and Abort 67; responding to press enquiries about providing EllaOne in pharmacies.

A meeting with our youth volunteers including training with Forward the anti-FGM charity and planning for a new online campaign, a fundraising event and more.

Now you know what our week looks like and have a better idea of what we do we are hoping you can help us with a small regular donation. EFC is not only busy, it is unique. No other organisation has the skills, knowledge or capacity to fill the gap that we would leave if we ran out of funding.

If just half our Twitter followers gave us £4 a month we would be able to fund ourselves from year to year. Any regular amount, however small, gives us a portion of income that we can rely on and helps us to plan our activities.

For more information about EFC follow @edforchoice and check out the the blog.

Zoe Williams

I have always been a leftie, and always been a feminist, so I’ve always been pro-choice; I grew up thinking of abortion as one of a menu of rights for women, along with voting, not being raped, not being raped within a marriage, getting equal pay for equal work, getting maternity leave. Looking at life as a banquet, wherein you fought for an equal share of every dish, reproductive rights would be right in the middle, sure – they’d be the fillet of beef, or the seven-bird medieval roast (I worry that I might lose vegetarians with this analogy) – but they’d share the table with other, democratically and ethically nutritious things.

It wasn’t until I’d actually had children that I realised that everything starts with reproductive choice.

Having children fatally wounds your ability to think of anything but your children. This is always taken as a really nice, cute fact of life, the leveling moment of motherhood. But it’s incredibly unhelpful, to the point of being absolutely destructive, to the business of the things that rights can deliver: agency; freedom; self-determination.

There is no point having the legal framework not to be raped within a marriage if you have no choice about when and whether you can reproduce within that marriage. Once he is the father of your children, you’ll be shackled to that man forever, and no rights or laws, let alone rhetoric, will be able to help. There is no point getting paid equally if your career might at any point be halted by an unplanned and – in career terms – incredibly long break.

At the most fundamental level, I catch myself thinking that even suffrage is wasted on me now, since as a political agent, I’m spent – I’ll fight the safest fights, but if for one second I had to jeopardise my home life, had to consider going to prison, I’d unchain myself from the tree, apologise to the policemen, do whatever I had to do to return to the haven of obedience.

The mistake, I think (well, one of the mistakes) made by people who are against abortion is that they think an unwanted pregnancy results in an unwanted child. By that rationale, if you didn’t want the baby, you could give it up; you could keep it and leave your dangerous marriage; you could go back to your job or your education and leave the kid with a childminder, if you were that dead set against having it in the first place. You may have a baby you didn’t want, but all your other rights would be intact.

It’s absolute moonshine. Your other rights are toast. Your other rights have as much meaning as your statutory right to return goods to a shop that has burnt down. Abortion is the first right, and we should fight for it on that basis: our sine qua non; our main event.

Zoe is a journalist and you can follow her on Twitter here.

Anna Hedge

Lessons from across the pond…

The attitude to reproductive rights in the US, (the home of 40 Days for Life) is most accurately reflected by groups who are vehemently opposed to abortion and those groups represent the views of the majority. Right? Wrong.  Religious anti-choice groups do not even accurately represent the views of their co-religionists, most of whom are in fact pro-choice, reflecting the views of the majority of the population.

I discovered this whilst reading a recent survey ; it’s extremely interesting, not least because the situation regarding reproductive rights in America is often viewed as a precursor of developments here.

The headline statistic: Whilst a narrow majority of all Americans do regard abortion as being morally unacceptable (51%) a majority also think it should be legal in all or most cases (56%). Furthermore, almost a third of those that think it immoral (28%) also think it should be legal. In other words, most Americans do not think it is their right to visit the dictates of their conscience upon others, using the force of law to do so.

The attitude towards reproductive rights amongst US religious communities was extremely surprising.  Even amongst US Catholics, perceived as being the most anti-abortion of religions, 53% think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (vs 41% thinking it should be illegal). It must be granted that there is a strong correlation between the frequency of church attendance and opposition to abortion, however; 63% of those Catholics attending church once a week or more think it should be illegal, and 33% think it should be completely banned. Nevertheless,  with the exception of evangelical Protestants, every religious group taken as a whole thinks that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.  This stands in sharp contrast to the statistics on abortion’s morality where a clear religious majority think it immoral.

It should be noted that I highlight the attitudes of religious groups solely because 40DfL undertake prayer vigils, an overtly religious form of protest. In the interest of completeness therefore; amongst the religiously unaffiliated, 80% say that abortion should be legal, with 63% thinking it morally acceptable.

Although interesting, what has this to do with 40DfL’s tactics here?  The UK is a notably less religious society than the US, and the abortion debate in the US is either further advanced or polarised, according to your perspective.

Campaigns like 40DfL should be viewed in the context of the increasingly politicised pushback on women’s reproductive rights.  Parliamentary initiatives, such as the attempt to remove counselling from abortion providers undoubtedly draw on grassroots campaigns like 40DfL for at least some of their authority, and in turn their credibility is enhanced by this.  40DfL attempt to represent themselves as the voice of a ‘pro-life’ majority,  conflating opposition to abortion prompted by an individual’s conscience and that same individual wanting the law to be changed for other women, when as the evidence from America shows, the truth is considerably more nuanced.

You can follow Anna on Twitter and she blogs here.

EdinburghEye

Every day, about 800 women die of causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. Teenage girls are much more likely to die than older women – a girl under 15 who gets pregnant is five times more likely to die in pregnancy than a woman in her twenties. About four-fifths of all these deaths are caused by four killers: infection and blood-loss in or after childbirth, illegal abortion, and eclampsia. 

Eclampsia is lethal. If a woman develops pre-eclampsia, there are treatments to alleviate the symptoms, but if those don’t work, ultimately the only solution to save the woman’s life is to terminate the pregnancy, as fast as possible. This may mean an early delivery, but if it’s too early, it means an abortion.

Denying a woman with severe pre-eclampsia abortion is a death sentence for her and therefore for the foetus she is carrying. The argument that it is better for both to die than for the woman to live by having an abortion is a theological rather than a medical point, and most people accept this – even prolifers who argue that if it’s done purely to save the woman’s life obviously it’s not really an abortion, it’s a something-else.

The lifesaving benefits of safe, legal abortion and freely-available contraception as a means of terminating and preventing unwanted pregnancies are so obvious that prolifers have had to claim that the pill is an abortifacient (it isn’t), to invent a Munchausen-by-Proxy disease, “abortion trauma syndrome”, and to invent, distort, or outright lie about unproven or disproved links between abortion and physical illnesses such as cancer. 

But there seems to be a genuine link between abortion and eclampsia, shown by a study involving over 20,000 first-time mothers, some of whom had had abortions, some of who had had miscarriages. It’s known that a woman who has previously had a normal pregnancy without pre-eclampsia is much less likely to have pre-eclampsia in her next pregnancy. A woman who has had at least one abortion is 16% less likely to develop pre-eclampsia: two abortions mean she is 60% less likely.

Previous abortions protect against eclampsia. Abortion saves lives in more than one way.

Not that anyone on the prochoice side of the argument would advocate that a pregnant woman rush out and get an abortion if she doesn’t want one, just because doing so might ensure she was less likely to develop pre-eclampsia in the future. Women have the right and the obligation to make their own decisions.

As I wrote to a confused and hostile prolifer: “Anyone who supports full healthcare for pregnant women and children, who opposes war and hunger and poverty, is supporting the right to life of unborn children far more effectively than the lying hypocrites of the right-wing who claim they only want to ban abortion because of their love for foetuses.”

Abortion is healthcare is a human right, and prochoice is pro-life.

Check out Edinburgh Eye on Twitter.

Farzana Rahman

Self-declared “unwilling mother,” and why I am reclaiming this from Stephen Adams

Another perfunctory and obtuse story from the increasingly nasty anti-women Daily Telegraph last week highlighted the availability of the contraceptive ellaOne without prescription at pharmacies. Before commenting on some of the inaccuracies and misrepresentations in Stephen Adams’ article, I want to take issue with his accusatory sub-heading: “A contraceptive pill which enables unwilling mothers to prevent unwanted pregnancies up to five days after sex…” Unwilling mothers? SHOTS FIRED. I want to break this down, and I hasten to add I’m breaking it down for me; this is my personal response to Adams’ little vitriol. I don’t wish to descend to his low-cultured level and immediately wave my hands in the air and throw “unwilling fathers” back in his face. However, it is estimated that there are approximately 2 million single parent led families, which are headed by women in the UK. He would do well to consider that in any discussion of “unwilling” mothers.

Adams’ article is more to do with venting against recreational sex rather than pro-creational sex, hence his little dig at “unwilling mothers.” Every time I have sex, I don’t want to run the risk of pregnancy, which is why I always use condoms. I choose not to use hormonal methods of contraception as I object to the onus of responsibility for taking pills at the same time of day solely being on me as the woman. With condoms, there is an equity, (or should be) between my sexual partner and me; that we are both responsible for ensuring that pregnancy does not occur. In that sense, yes I am most definitely a very proud and responsible “unwilling mother.”

Consider these stats as well from Gingerbread:
•    The median weekly income for working single parent families doing 16 hours a week or more is £337, compared with £491 for couple families with one worker and £700 where both parents work;
•    38 per cent of single parents said that money always runs out before the end of the week/month compared to 19 per cent of couples;
•    Working single parents paying for childcare are much more likely than working couples paying for childcare to find it difficult to meet childcare costs (32% compared to 22% of couples where one partner is in work, and 20% of couples where both work).

Gingerbread works to tackle the stigmas and myths perpetuated against single parent families. A lot of their work is rooted in evidence-based research unlike the Telegraph’s default commentators on women’s reproductive rights: SPUC and the Family Educational Trust. Both of which reacted to the news that ellaOne would now be available over the counter at Co-Operative pharmacies with their predictable: “but it is an ABORTIFACIENT!” outrage. The NHS Choices website makes it clear, that the ulipistral acetate in ellaOne acts differently to levonorogestrel (found in the already available over-the-counter Levonelle emergency contraceptive), by acting on a progesterone receptor and is effective for a longer period that Levonelle (hence the misleading and downright stupid Daily Mail labelling of ellaOne as the ‘5 Day Promiscuity Pill’.) Neither of these pills are therefore abortifacients, they prevent the release of a fertilised egg.

Motherhood is not for a man to define. Men can define and play around with the definitions of fatherhood if they want, and they can trot out their nice little rose-tinted views of what this is, but to demonise women who are responsible and autonomous as “unwilling mothers” because of their contraceptive decisions is not for Stephen Adams, or Paul Tully (SPUC) or Norman Wells (Family Educational Trust) to decide. I am an unwilling mother because through no fault of my own, I was actually co-opted as a sort of mother and care-giver for my sister who has Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities. Just because I haven’t pushed something out of my vagina doesn’t mean that I don’t already do things, which could be seen as what mothers do. I am offended that a silly little man would dare to insult me in that way, therefore fuck you Stephen Adams, I am reclaiming “unwilling mother” from you.

You should totally check out Farzana’s tweets here.

Caspar Salmon

While the ‘40 Days for Life’ lot are nobly camping out across the country outside abortion clinics and fearlessly intimidating women, it may be worth discussing the question of what men have to say about this. You’re in a tricky position as a male feminist, because you need to be very clear from the off that you aren’t merely replicating, but from another stance, the thing that you’re attacking: namely, that you’re not telling women what to do with their bodies. That’s kind of what we’re all here for. Can a man have a useful voice, on this topic, or should we just agree to butt out of it, forever and ever amen? 

As a man who has sex with men (although perhaps not as often as I’d like), I would appear to be even more at a remove from the discussion. I will never be in the situation of getting a woman pregnant by accident, and therefore could fairly be expected not to have an intellectual or emotional investment in the finer points of the abortion argument.

Such, at any rate, was the way it was put to me by an awful person I had sex with, this one time. Look, we all make mistakes. I had been attending a meeting to discuss what response to formulate to the abortion amendment that had, at this point, recently been tabled by Nadine Dorries and Frank Field in the hope of stripping abortion providers of their counselling role. The idea behind Dorries’ terrible amendment was clearly to chip away however gradually at women’s abortion rights, by making women seeking abortions have to go through counselling with other bodies, many of which - it subsequently became ultra-clear - were highly ill-placed to provide such advice and would blatantly seek to make their anti-choice bias apparent in any counselling they delivered to pregnant women.

I explained to the chap where I had been, upon arriving at his flat after the meeting, and was met with undisguised incomprehension. “Why do you give a shit?” he asked. I explained that I give a shit because as a feminist I’m dispirited to see the necessary freedoms that women have fought so hard to attain being eroded in my lifetime, and am extremely concerned to be a part of any fight to preserve women’s rights. It appeared from his reaction that I was missing the wider point of why a man should care about women’s rights at all, and for that matter, why a homo should. The answer, to spell it out for anyone with only partial logical ability or under the age of four, is that the rights of women are everybody’s rights; the rights of women are human rights. More: it makes my mind boggle to think that a gay man in 2011 (this was then) might not perceive the clear links between the feminist combat and the LGBT combat. A woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy concerns everybody, since it is about according a fellow human the liberty to live her own life unfettered by the demands of motherhood, if such is her wish, that she might elect to be a mother at a time of her own choosing, or not as the case may be. Gay rights also concern everyone, since they participate in a similar way in the ongoing struggle to obtain basic human rights for all. These questions are absurd: was I supposed not to care about the shooting of Trayvon Martin because I don’t have a black son? Would I be allowed to dismiss the treatment of the elderly, since I myself am (reasonably) young? What does it matter to me, for that matter, that disabled people and the poor are being further disenfranchised under this government, as I am able-bodied and financially comfortable? This is a ridiculous logic. We all have a duty of care to each other.

That I still slept with this person despite his horrible stance on abortion (it turned out he was anti-; big surprise) in no way diminishes this truth. As a Turkish man living openly in London as a gay person, he should have been very clear that the liberties I was discussing at the rally are similar to liberties afforded him in his town of choice but not in his home country (where gay men are not allowed to perform national service openly, and are issued with a pink folder that is circulated to employers upon non-completion of national service, to signify that they are gay men. Gay men wishing not to do national service must provide photographic evidence (!) to support their claim).

As a gay man, I also think that I have a stance to bring to the debate, in terms of my attitude to parenting. Because, as I said above in slightly different terms, rare is the gay person who gets pregnant by mistake. It may be that sometimes this is a happy mistake for straight couples who then decide, to hell with it, to go ahead with the pregnancy. But I could just as often wish that care and planning went a little more into the securing of a ‘straight’ pregnancy, as it does when same sex couples decide to become parents. In these discussions between homo parents-to-be, everything from the way of parenting to the availability of schools, choice of names, time with grandparents, is raised and debated, before then deciding to wop out the turkey baster*. A key part of the abortion debate centres around making all children be wanted children, which is clearly an impossibility if access to abortion is limited or removed. Listen to the gays! We’re all in this together! It gets better! No pasaran!

*A turkey baster is actually not at all the right piece of equipment, because too unwieldy and comical, and savvy homos will favour a syringe.

Jennifer Reiter

A tribute to home-grown UK pro-choice activism

It was August 2008. I knew I was moving to the UK the following year and I needed to learn about the organisations involved in sexual and reproductive health (SRH) work as well as the campaigns dedicated to pro-choice advocacy and activism. I sent a fairly fruitless email to dozens of SRH organisations in London asking them to meet me for an informational interview. Do Brits know what an informational interview is? The only person who agreed to meet me was one brilliant woman called Kate from Education For Choice, who would later become my colleague. It was only when she greeted me in person that I discovered she was also American.

We had a lively, enlightening conversation in Cafe Oto. We talked about the latest reproductive justice news from the U.S. We had both been involved in pro-choice work in the fiercely divisive U.S. climate. We were used to security guards outside of abortion clinics, we were used to getting into ferocious arguments if someone asked us what we did, we were used to seeing  adult-height posters of aborted fetuses outside clinics, outside our high schools, on boulevards in the middle of downtown Chicago. Kate asked me if I worried about not having anything to rage against when I moved to the UK.

I wanted to live in a country where healthcare is a right, not a privilege. I’d been working on health inequalities projects for years. How on earth can health inequalities be addressed in a country where healthcare is not an inscribed right? This is just one of the many root causes of the reproductive injustices that vividly play out across the U.S.

It wasn’t long before there was something to rage against. The tide seemed to change when the new government came into power in 2010. Many of us working in the public and voluntary sectors felt its impact later that year. Soon Nadine Dorries (along with Frank Field) introduced amendments that would have stripped abortion providers of their counselling role. Dorries also proposed a motion that would have required schools to teach abstinence to girls only. And before you knew it, 40 Days for Life turned up on our shores.

So we held a rally outside the Houses of Parliament. And another one. A fabulous, feisty demonstration took place against Dorries’ abstinence bill for girls. The fantastically proactive Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance was founded and seems to have inspired a shiny new generation of pro-choice activists. The delightfully named 40 Days of Treats began delivering tasty treats to abortion providers to show support. And this very monumental blog, which has heard from pro-choice voices from a beautifully diverse range of genders, classes, ethnicities and faiths, began and has documented for all to see that we truly are the pro-choice majority.

 I raise my glass to the passionate, devoted and intelligent pro-choice advocates and activists that I’ve been inspired by, worked beside and learned from since I moved to the UK over three years ago. We have a lot to rage against these days but our dedication to abortion rights and reproductive justice will last a heck of a lot longer than 40 days.

By day Jennifer is a sexual health projects worker in London. At other times she is a volunteer for the Abortion Support Network. She tweets here.

Gail Teasdale

Commissioning services to improve children and young people’s sexual health is a challenging role. Many people are not comfortable seeing the words ‘sex’ and ‘young people’ in the same sentence. Having done this role for 10 years now I am used to evidencing why it’s important even if adults find it difficult. We all want our young people to grow up well informed with good communication skills so they can have happy, healthy relationships and access to contraception and other sexual health services when they need it. The strategy and services I put in place have reduced teenage pregnancy by 35% over 10 years. A key aspect of the strategy was ensuring all services were pro-choice, from what was taught in schools and training for staff working with young people, to the services providing condoms, pregnancy testing and access to contraception. All services commissioned had to have a pro-choice approach. I have also embedded a pro choice approach into polices of services I don’t commission e.g. youth services.

This was not without its challenges. I have been challenged on decisions made (sometimes by anti-choice services who wanted funding, sometimes by senior managers who had been lobbied by those groups), received hate mail and negative press. I have been accused of reducing teenage pregnancy by increasing access to abortion (despite the fact we are measured on conceptions not births). However I have maintained that if we really want to reduce the need for abortion we won’t achieve this by restricting knowledge or access but by ensuring young people are well informed and empowered with all the facts and that, when needed, access to abortion services are available in a safe and timely way. Sometimes it’s been suggested I should allow anti-choice projects an “equal opportunity” or platform for their views. In these situations I am reminded of the quote “a lie is not the other side of the story, its just a lie”. I am clear that anti-choice is not a balance with pro-choice. Pro-choice allows for all to make the choice that’s right for them at that time and in their particular circumstance. It offers information, guidance, access to services but ultimately the freedom to make an informed choice. I maintain it is a basic human right to ensure every persons has the right to make their own, informed choice about pregnancy free from coercion, distress and harassment and that has to be enshrined in any service commissioned not just for young people but for people of any age.

Gail is a commissioner for Children and Young People’s Services in Hull.

David Robert Grimes

Abortion is an emotive issue and all too often a deeply polarising one. Perhaps this is to be expected – people have the right to their own opinions. But people do not have a right to their own facts. In the ‘pro-life’ camp, truth is often the first casualty of war. One of the more odious examples of this is anti-choice sentiment masquerading as being “woman-centred” or rooted in science; ostensibly these campaigners claim their opposition to abortion is because abortion is damaging to women, a claim they’ll often try and support with some scary studies. But scratch the concerned facade and you’ll see the same zealotry and disregard for facts as the raging placard wavers. It is worth analysing the triumvirate of anti-choice claims to see exactly what the research says.

1. Claim: Abortion damages a woman’s mental health / increases suicide risk 

Many ‘pro-life’ groups claim women who opt for an abortion rather than carrying to term suffer mental maladies such as depression, suicide and other problems. A 2011 Danish New England Journal of Medicine study charted the psychological health of 365,550 women, including 84,620 who had had abortions and found zero increase in psychological damage among those who had had abortions and no elevated risk of suicide. 

Psychologist Dr Brenda Majors has published on the topic extensively and note that provided a woman was not depressive before an abortion, “elective abortion of an unintended pregnancy does not pose a risk to mental health”. This is supported by numerous studies and the scientific consensus is that elective abortion poses no risk to mental health. Despite this, the myth continues unabated as Dr Nada Stotland notes; “Currently, there are active attempts to convince the public and women considering abortion that abortion frequently has negative psychiatric consequences. This assertion is not borne out by the literature: the vast majority of women tolerate abortion without psychiatric sequelae”.

While women do not generally suffer long-term mental health effects due to abortion, short-term guilt and sadness was far more likely if the women had a background where abortion was viewed negatively or their decisions were decried – the kind of attitude fostered by ‘pro-life’ activists. Choice is the operative term here - there is plenty of evidence that forcing a woman to carry to term / terminate AGAINST her will is damaging. Anti-choice activists occasionally try to misrepresent the findings of smaller ambiguous studies, like Ferguson et al (2008) - which followed 500 women and concluded there may be very small mental health effect but  hard to call and they state ”..the results do not support strong pro-life positions that claim that abortion has large and devastating effects on the mental health of women..” . Tellingly, in the same text the authors note that the vast majority of the women interviewed later felt that abortion was the right choice for them. In contrast, the Danish study (Munk-Olsen et al 2011) followed up on over 300,000 women and found zero evidence that abortion damages mental health in women that opt for it, a finding that is important given larger sample groups have smaller errors.

Status: Claim is false

2. Claim: Abortion causes breast cancer

The abortion-breast cancer hypothesis originally was proposed in the 1980s, but successive trials and cohort studies have shown that there is zero medical link between abortion and breast cancer.  For all intents and purposes, this conjecture is dead in the water.. unless of course you’re a (usually American) pro-lifer. In fact, despite the fact that bodies as diverse as the World Health Organisation, The US National Cancer Institute, and both the American and Royal Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists explicitly stated no such link exists; American ‘pro-life’ lobbyists have campaigned to have it legally recognised. On the face of it this is darkly comic; the idea that anti-choice lobbyists would campaign to change biology should show how ridiculous the whole thing is. Yet during George W Bush’s administration, the US National Cancer Institute’s website was edited to state there may be a causal link, despite there being no evidence for this and plenty against it. This is the odious reality of pro-life campaigns that are ostensibly “woman centred”. There is something particularly galling about this one; although breast cancer is in reality quite a survivable cancer with a generally good prognosis, it has an emotional impact that terrifies many women and it is difficult to see this particular myth as anything more than a crass attempt to manipulate and terrify.

Status: Claim is false

3. Claim: Abortion causes infertility

Elective medical abortion does not cause infertility, but unsafe abortion can certainly affect future fertility - it can also lead to death. If anti-choice activists are so keen to save the lives and reproductive health of women, this certainly seems markedly at odds with the reality of the situation.

Status: Claim is false

Anti-choice groups who claim they’re against abortion because they care about women are either entirely misguided or obnoxiously insincere; if they really valued the feelings of women one would wonder why they insist on scaremongering and outright lying to women who are often having to make difficult, heart-breaking choices.  They have every right to personally oppose abortion on ethical or religious grounds, but no right to misrepresent science to bolster their ideological position, nor indeed do they have the right to inflict their ethical or religious positions upon other people by making baseless assertions designed to terrify. Pseudoscientific scaremongering is not helpful or caring, and should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves.

Dr. David Robert Grimes is a medical physicist with a keen interest in the public understanding of science. He keeps a science and medicine blog at www.davidrobertgrimes.com and occasionally writes opinion pieces for the Irish Times.

Nicky Clark

An article in the Irish Examiner on 11 October 2012 reported that a guest speaker at children’s mass in County Cork, Ireland, detailed her abortion and stated that because of this abortion, she was “punished by God by having a grandchild with special needs”.

There were disabled children at the service and parents left the mass feeling horrified.

As Ireland is currently living through changing times around abortion, the emotive ideology deployed by some campaigning groups, are conflating the issues of abortion and disability and seeking to make a linear argument of cause and effect .

This notion is not new. In February 2010 Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall speaking at a press conference against state funding for Planned Parenthood said this:

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.

In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”  

Again this discriminatory notion played to the idea of “punishment” through disability. It would be easy to sideline Marshall as a “crack pot” but the worry is that in the battle to allow women control over their own bodies, politicians of faith here in the UK are also stepping forward with restrictions.

Jeremy Hunt, recently made Health Secretary, stated his views on the reduction of the limit for abortion in the UK. He proposed that the limit be reduced from 24 to 12 weeks.

This is a time when the issue of women’s rights globally should be talked about as much as possible to ensure all views are heard without fear of reprisal. Emotive propaganda may vent faith-based views, but they destabilise themselves in the face of calm objective science, which easily negates emotive based opinion offered as “fact”.

As an atheist my view is clear. I choose to live my life to the dictates of my conscience not religious rules. I support and endorse a woman’s right to choose and as a disability rights campaigner I speak out against stigmatising attitudes towards disabled people which contribute to disability hate crime, which we have seen rise exponentially in the UK in the last 12 months.

Ultimately disabled people are not the whipping boy for government, or fringe faith groups, or anyone else. The institutions of church and government exist to serve people, not the other way around.

This manipulation of health and wellbeing through the prism of hysterical fundamentalism whilst asserting an affirmation of love and compassion, offers us only the lasting idea that they do not speak as a conduit for faith or decency.

It is quite simply obscene to suggest that anyone, irrespective of his or her ability or disability, is the manifest atonement for anything and it is beyond offensive to expect any right thinking person to accept that disabled people be degraded, stigmatised and dragged pejoratively into the debate.

Nicky is a disability rights campaigner and writer.

Katy Ladbrook

Pro-Choice and Christian

Sanctimonious godbotherers, 40 Days for Life, are coming to the end of their latest prayerathon against abortion. They might seem fairly harmless as they kneel in vigil outside clinics. Don’t be fooled. In America this group has closed down services and stopped women from making appointments.

I’m a seasoned pro-choice activist and I’m also a Christian. I can maintain these two principles very comfortably; however it is very uncomfortable to be associated with my religion’s atrocious record on sexual and reproductive rights. Love, sexuality, family and relationships are the most meaningful and positive aspects of life, and I feel that as a Christian as well as a supporter of human rights. The idea of abusing these rights is perverse and completely contradicts my beliefs.

My Christian beliefs are just that; they’re just beliefs, they’re just mine. They don’t deserve special respect because they are rooted in religion. I shouldn’t expect anyone else to share them and I certainly don’t get to force them on people. When 40DfL demonstrate against abortion in the name of Christ, they assert that this is a Christian act (it’s not) and that this gives them authority to condemn women (it doesn’t).

Furthermore, 40DfL are assuming that Christianity is meaningful to the women they rant at. Has it occurred to them how irrelevant their beliefs are to someone who doesn’t believe in God? When they draw on references in scripture to advocate the sanctity of life, I guess they’re attempting to inspire women to accept their unplanned pregnancy as a little miracle, an unexpected gift from God. They are so righteous and convinced by their beliefs that abortion is a sin, that they cannot imagine how people see it any other way.

The women going into BPAS have already made their decisions; they’re not looking for spiritual guidance. 40DfL would be in no position to offer practical support to a pregnant woman if she did turn around and ask for it. I think on some level these one-trick ponies know their protest is futile. They just want to hurt women for making their own decisions and not being slaves to controlling beliefs.

40DFL have every right to view abortion as a sin, but they cannot pretend that this is a widely held Christian view. If they want to end abortion they can lobby to change policy, but back off the clinics and stop attacking individual women. We pro-choicers know very well how important it is to accept that people hold a variety of views on abortion and should be allowed to follow their own conscience free from harassment.

As a Christian I find it horrible to see people holding up my scripture and using my forms of worship to try to shame women. If they want to pray to end abortion, then go for it, pray at home or in your church. Don’t use those prayers as a way to bash women who don’t think like you.

These actions misrepresent the majority of Christians who are pro-choice. It also leaves a lot of people assuming that Christians are anti-choice. The majority of us are not. Nor are the majority of us anti-contraception, anti-woman, homophobic or abuse apologists. It’s just that many of the over-privileged white men who represent us are. Sound familiar?

Katy has a website, it’s here.

Joyce Arthur

For 25 years, Canada has had no legal restrictions on abortion whatsoever – not even any gestational limits. From my perspective as a Canadian, the UK’s current debate over the proposed reduction in its legal time limit for an abortion is way off-base.

Politicians and the media seem trapped by the assumption that some kind of abortion law is necessary and they just need to decide what the limits are. In reality, the best solution is full decriminalization, because all anti-abortion laws are unjust, harmful, and useless – including the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act.

The case of Canada

Canada is the first country in the world to prove that abortion care can be ethically and successfully managed as part of standard healthcare practice, without being controlled by any civil or criminal law. (Two Australian states have also successfully decriminalized abortion in recent years.)

Since 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada threw out our abortion law as unconstitutional, the sky has not fallen, but our abortion rates have – we’ve witnessed a decline since 2000 and now have a relatively low abortion rate compared to many other developed countries – about 14 abortions per 1000 women of childbearing age per year.

That rate is still a bit higher than some western European countries, which reflects the need to decrease further the number of unwanted pregnancies. Nevertheless, Canada’s teen birth and abortion rate declined 37 per cent between 1996 and 2006, primarily because of better access to effective contraception. In other words, declines in abortion rates are not related to anti-abortion laws, but mostly to the availability of contraception in a country. The only effective and just strategy for reducing abortion is to help women avoid unwanted pregnancy.

Despite the lack of a gestational limit law in Canada, 90 per cent of abortions occur during the first trimester, and less than half a percent after 20 weeks. The latter are all for compelling reasons, such as fetal abnormalities incompatible with life or a serious threat to the woman’s health or life. Sound familiar? That’s because the same pattern of abortion practice repeats itself naturally in any country where services are reasonably accessible – independently of any laws.

The majority of women present as early as they can for an abortion, and a tiny number of women will always need later abortions because of dire circumstances. Banning later abortions in the UK would do nothing to prevent the need for them – but it would be profoundly cruel.

The ‘upper limit’ argument

The notion that a legal gestational limit is required to stop later abortions is not just untrue, it’s also moralistic and patronising. Anti-choice groups in Canada claim that women can have abortions right up to the ninth month of pregnancy for any reason, on the apparent assumption that women are stupid and doctors are irresponsible. But Canada’s abortion practice is not an unregulated free-for-all – it’s properly governed by policies of the Canadian Medical Association, codes of ethics, clinical protocols, and the medical discretion of healthcare professionals – just as it is for all healthcare.

Criminal or civil law is inappropriate in medicine because it puts legislators in the operating room and gives them veto power over medical decisions made by doctors and patients. No other healthcare treatment is subject to such dangerous political interference, and abortion should not be either.

The UK debate over reducing the time limit is a perennial one that will keep coming back over and over again, because an abortion law – even a so-called liberal one – is a gift to anti-choice politicians. Not only does it provide a solid anchor from which to lobby for and pass more restrictions, it’s often used as a weapon against providers and women.

The recent ‘sting’ operations against abortion clinics and providers in the UK are a case in point. Examples abound from other countries, such as in New Zealand, where the anti-choice movement has gone to court with accusations that the two ‘certifying consultants,’ required under that country’s law to approve abortions, have been illegally rubber-stamping almost all requests.

But the problem is not whether the consultants are interpreting the law too broadly, the problem is the law itself – just as in the UK with its pointless legal requirement for two doctors’ permission. Women should have a fundamental right to abortion on request without having to state a reason or obtain approval from anyone.

‘Fetal viability’ is irrelevant

Much of the debate in the UK media has focused on the science of fetal viability and at what gestation they can survive on their own. This issue is totally irrelevant to women who need abortion care, as the survival ability of premature babies applies only to fetuses being carried to term. If a woman needs an abortion, then by definition, her fetus is not viable.

Abortion care must be focused solely on the woman’s health and needs, because without a willing and able pregnant woman, the fetus has no standing – and there is nothing the state can or should do about it.

When we focus on the fetus, we forget about the woman and her reasons for an abortion. Women don’t ask for an abortion because it’s their ‘right to choose,’ or because they don’t understand what’s inside of them. They request abortion because they can’t provide responsibly for a child (or another child) at this point in their lives.

A woman’s abortion decision is about ensuring her future and that of her family, not about the current legal or moral status of her fetus. It’s about being the best mother possible when she’s ready – or maybe not becoming a mother at all if she knows she’s not suited to it. That is the very definition of conscientious decision-making. We can trust women to know what’s best for themselves and their families, without imposing punitive criminal laws against their private decisions.

Joyce Arthur is the founder and Executive Director of Canada’s national pro-choice group, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.

(This blog is cross-posted, with permission, from Abortion Review)

Annie Tidbury

Abort 67, coming to a campus near you

Earlier this week, the anti-choice campaign group Abort 67 staged a protest at Sussex University. You’ve probably heard of this particular bunch of anti-choicers before - they’re somewhat infamous for their bullying tactics and can often be found harassing people who try to enter clinics, armed with hugely misleading anti-choice propaganda and graphic images of aborted foetuses. They have also been known to film members of the public. All these tactics have one thing in common – they are deliberately designed to distress those subjected to them.

It’s bad enough that such a group exists in the world, but it gets worse. Whilst Abort 67 was at Sussex University, one student who spoke to them learned that they are planning to target more universities in the future. Listed by name were Nottingham, Cambridge, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol, with Nottingham being the next. Yep, that’s right. They’re planning an anti-choice university tour.

So now the group has suddenly set their sights on harassing students, it’s interesting to ask why. When Abort 67 protests outside clinics, their vile logic is clear - they’re hoping to intimidate people at their most vulnerable. But when they appear on university campuses I think they do so with a completely different mindset.

Like my university (UCL), some of those named by Abort 67 have official pro-choice policy in place within their student unions. And we only make up a small part of a nation-wide pro-choice student movement. This explains why any university may now be in for a visit from Abort 67 – unlike the people they target outside clinics they do not see us as ‘vulnerable’, but rather as powerful. If the whole situation were not so sickening it would almost be flattering. We’ve put up enough of a fight thus far for them to want to try and beat us back down.

Over the past few years the student pro-choice movement has been growing stronger and stronger, no wonder Abort 67 are beginning to get worried. But we all know that anti-choice groups have no place on university campuses. If you want to take a stand against Abort 67 there are several things you can do:

- Pass a motion within your Union noting the protest in Sussex and condemning Abort 67’s bullying tactics. This motion could involve calling upon your student union to help publicise or fund a retaliation should the group arrive. For help with this, try getting in contact with your Union’s Women’s Officer or Welfare Officer.

- If the group do arrive on your campus then stage a counter protest. Use banners, noise and be creative! Sussex students also had the good idea of covering up the images Abort 67 use.

- Help publicise counter-protests and support the universities around you.

- Spread the word that universities are likely to be targeted. It’s particularly important that we get the message to students at the universities listed by Abort 67.

Attacks on the right to choose - from the government, from the media and from anti-abortion protest groups - are coming thick and fast. Abort 67 has actually given us an important reminder, if one were needed, that students need to be at the forefront of the fight for reproductive rights. 

Annie goes by @hurrumble on Twitter.

Heather Corinna

This year, it’s now been 20 years since my abortion.

I hadn’t realized until this week that was the case.  Despite being something that made a huge impact on my life — or rather, kept a pregnancy at the time from having at the huge impact on my life it would have — it’s simply not an anniversary I keep all that aware of.

I’m pretty certain that’s not because I’m heartless, I’m not.  Nor is it because children are so irrelevant to me that that choice was meaningless to me on that score. My love and care for children, and how much I enjoy having them as a big part of my life, was the hardest part of that choice for me.  I’ve been a dedicated teacher for over 20 years, I’m a child and adolescent advocate, and I consider my standing as Auntie Extraordinaire with the utmost import. On the whole, I’ve easily spent more than 50% of my life to date helping, guiding, and caring for other people’s children. I simply am not a parent, and knew then, as I knew since and still know know, that personally reproducing wasn’t the right choice for me.

Ultimately, I think the reason my abortion less significant than it might be otherwise is because 20 years ago, when I had an abortion, the culture and community surrounding me in that choice were far more supportive of it than the culture, and many communities, people in the same position are surrounded with now.

When I discovered I had become accidentally pregnant, I knew I had choices, and I knew — not believed, knew — all of those choices were possible, good, right options.  I was able to easily reach out and talk with other people about making my decision, including two mothers of children at a school I ran at the time. I didn’t feel fear or anxiety about telling people I trusted, about asking for help, and I didn’t feel concerned that anyone I talked to wouldn’t be supportive of any choice I wanted to make.  I didn’t worry that if I said I was thinking about abortion anyone I spoke with would lose respect for me, would abuse me, would degrade me, would try and talk me into what they wanted. All of those conversations went well: all were supportive and helpful. I was with a  partner who I knew from the onset, even though we hadn’t really discussed it, would be supportive of whatever choice I made. And even with feelings about this choice that weren’t in perfect alignment, those divides were something we were able to work out with care and respect.

When I decided on abortion, I knew I had access to abortion, even though I also knew I was going to have to struggle to come up with the money to pay for it, just like I had to struggle to come up with any amount of money more than $20.  I didn’t wonder if i had the legal right to terminate or not: it was a given. Of course I did. I didn’t wonder if there was a provider I could easily get to by walking or the bus: of course there was, and I just looked up my options in the phone book — where the only services listed under abortion were, in fact, abortion services — choosing a provider just a couple miles away from my apartment.  I didn’t worry about accidentally winding up at a crisis pregnancy center instead of a clinic: they didn’t exist yet.  

I knew there would probably be some protestors, and there were, but I felt so personally and culturally supported in making my choices, and I knew there would be clinic escorts, to help if I needed, that I knew walking through then would be something I could handle easily. And it was.  For the young woman walking in with me for whom it was more challenging, I stepped up, the escorts stepped up.  Even someone unsupported could count on the kindness of strangers.

I didn’t worry much about my safety or that of my provider: the year before, and early in 1992, clinic violence was low.  (It would, as it turned out, massively increase later that year.) Oddly enough, later that same year, the Supreme Court also ruled on Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, allowing states to put more restrictions on abortion.

I knew that however I felt after my procedure, it was okay, and I knew that without having to read anything on the internet or in books, without having to have a counselor at the clinic tell me that.  I knew that if I felt relieved, as I did, that that would be supported by the people around me.  I knew that if I felt at all sad, and I also did, that would, too.  I knew that however I felt, I did not have to worry about anyone around me…. those feelings to try and further a personal agenda. I knew that no matter how I felt, no one I trusted would try and capitalize on it. I knew that if I didn’t feel well for a day or two after, I could call any of my friends and ask for them to come by and bring me soup or just sit with me. 

And I knew that I got to decide how important or unimportant my abortion was to me then and thereafter: that it was up to me, and that whatever import it did or didn’t have? It was okay. 

I know that all of that, all of how my experience was, is becoming more and more rare, and has been becoming so for some time.  I’ve been watching that change ever since like watching a highway accident in slow motion. What I describe from 20 years ago is an experience of abortion when it is normalized and respected as a choice: normalized and respected by a person, by a culture and community.

While that certainly would not have been the universal or unilateral experience of everyone who chose abortion then, it certainly was far, far more common, I’d say, than it is for nearly anyone, anywhere, now.

Every year, I hear from young people who have become pregnant accidentally or unwontedly, and what I hear is probably what reminds me most of exactly how many years it has been since my abortion, and how very much has changed: not for the better.

So many of these things I simply knew — that I would be supported, that I would be okay, that I would be able to access the abortion services I decided I wanted — are things that so many, now, don’t know.  Sometimes they aren’t sure.  Often times, they are sure: they’re sure they will not be supported, not by friends, family or partners.  They have to think hard to come up with even one person they know who will be supportive.  Some cannot think of even that one.  And if they don’t have the money on their own?  If you can’t think of even one person who will be supportive of your choice, that takes asking each of your friends for ten or twenty bucks to help you right off the table. 

Sometimes they are sure abortion is their own best right choice, and that they will be okay… until they receive misinformation masquerading as care or science about how wrong they are that they’ll be okay.  That they’ll become infertile or ill from a procedure infinitely less associated with infertility and illness than childbirth, for example, or that they’ll become traumatized from something which is often entirely nontraumatic unless some “caring” outsider puts trauma unto it. Sometimes, all they need to do to hear misinformation about reproduction, pregnancy and abortion is to turn on the news and overhear a government representative.

Sometimes they have no idea if they even have the legal right — particularly as minors or undocumented citizens — to obtain an abortion, and if they do, don’t have any idea of where a nearby provider is: or IF there is a nearby provider at all. In many cases, there isn’t one:  in the United States, as of this year, in 87% of counties lack abortion services. Some talk about having thought they found a provider, only to discover they were instead defrauded by a crisis pregnancy center. Some go to a clinic to terminate a pregnancy, only to have family members, partners or friends show up to bully them out of it. Some come to clinics alone, and talk about how they have had to lie, and will need to continue to lie, to everyone in their lives about being pregnant and choosing to terminate, because if they told even one person around them the truth, they wouldn’t be able to make the choice they want to.  Sometimes those same people were protesting in front of the same clinic the week before.

The right to safe, legal abortion in the United States has always been tenuous since we achieved it, but over the last 20 years, it not only has it become more tenuous than ever, but it has been chipped away in tiny pieces — and some big ones — so consistently, both via public policy and public sentiment, that it seems highly unlikely right now that most people who choose to have an abortion will know the things I knew, or have the experience I had, including the experience of having a procedure carry only as much weight as they want to give it themselves.

I don’t just feel that everyone should have the right to a safe, legal abortion which they can access and afford.  I feel everyone should have the right to an abortion which has as much meaning, or as little, to them as it does, and the regard and respect of those around them — be they family, friends or partners, or over aching culture and public policy — to, of course, freely afford them that right.

Heather is the founder and executive director of Scarleteen, a young people’s sex education site based in the States.

Education For Choice

What does a pro-choice education project *do*?

The 40 Days of Choice campaign is about raising awareness. We’ve been lucky enough to have 30 brilliant bloggers (and counting!) write about pro-choice topics relating to health, religion, morality, motherhood and the rest. The 40 Days of Choice campaign is also about raising funds. Some generous souls have already donated (often a pound for each day anti-choice protestors stand outside clinics) and now we’re asking you to do the same.

But before you part with your hard-earned cash we want to give you a bit of insight into what it is we actually do. We’re a niche project, and as our patron Polly Toynbee points out in this promotional film, we’re small but we pack a huge punch. When this film was made we had three full time staff and a scruffy office on the Holloway Road. EFC is now down to one full time staff member, a part-time freelancer and a couple of desks inside Brook’s office. We are a project within Brook, but are a totally self-financing entity. That means that on top of all the project work we do (see below) we also have to do our own fundraising. This should be easy really shouldn’t it? A mere £50,000 a year would pay for everything we currently do. This is a drop in the ocean considering how many people we are able to work with, the quality of our work and the years of experience and knowledge we bring to all we do. It’s a drop in the ocean compared to the income of LIFE, SPUC, Care Confidential and all the other anti-choice organisations. (FYI Life just got almost £300,000 from the Big Lottery Fund).

So what does an EFC week look like?

Delivering a training day: Over the years we’ve trained over 3,000 youth workers, nurses, teachers, and midwives across England to provide evidence-based education sessions on abortion for young people  in schools and youth groups, and one-to-one support with decision-making for hundreds of thousands of young people.

Facilitating school workshops:We’ve worked with tens of thousands of young people over the years to provide them with quality education workshops on pregnancy decision-making and abortion.

Finalising our report on the current state of abortion education in schools. This report raises important issues the government and school governors should consider, about the kind of ‘education’ and ‘information’ young people in our schools are exposed to and what this means in terms of educational ethics, as well as young people’s health and wellbeing.

Responding to a request from a sixth form college to debate with Abort 67:we gave the college a whole load of reasons why they should retract their invitation to Abort 67 – which they have now done – hooray! Sometimes teachers are keen to create a lively debate without thinking through the real implications and consequences for the students of exposing them to inappropriate materials and speakers, or giving credibility to such organisations.

Advocacy and press work: responding to some of the vast amount of press given to Ministerial statements on abortion; keeping up with the antics of the 40 Days for Life vigil-antis and Abort 67; responding to press enquiries about providing EllaOne in pharmacies.

A meeting with our youth volunteers including training with Forward the anti-FGM charity and planning for a new online campaign, a fundraising event and more.

Now you know what our week looks like and have a better idea of what we do we are hoping you can help us with a small regular donation. EFC is not only busy, it is unique. No other organisation has the skills, knowledge or capacity to fill the gap that we would leave if we ran out of funding.

If just half our Twitter followers gave us £4 a month we would be able to fund ourselves from year to year. Any regular amount, however small, gives us a portion of income that we can rely on and helps us to plan our activities.

For more information about EFC follow @edforchoice and check out the the blog.

Zoe Williams

I have always been a leftie, and always been a feminist, so I’ve always been pro-choice; I grew up thinking of abortion as one of a menu of rights for women, along with voting, not being raped, not being raped within a marriage, getting equal pay for equal work, getting maternity leave. Looking at life as a banquet, wherein you fought for an equal share of every dish, reproductive rights would be right in the middle, sure – they’d be the fillet of beef, or the seven-bird medieval roast (I worry that I might lose vegetarians with this analogy) – but they’d share the table with other, democratically and ethically nutritious things.

It wasn’t until I’d actually had children that I realised that everything starts with reproductive choice.

Having children fatally wounds your ability to think of anything but your children. This is always taken as a really nice, cute fact of life, the leveling moment of motherhood. But it’s incredibly unhelpful, to the point of being absolutely destructive, to the business of the things that rights can deliver: agency; freedom; self-determination.

There is no point having the legal framework not to be raped within a marriage if you have no choice about when and whether you can reproduce within that marriage. Once he is the father of your children, you’ll be shackled to that man forever, and no rights or laws, let alone rhetoric, will be able to help. There is no point getting paid equally if your career might at any point be halted by an unplanned and – in career terms – incredibly long break.

At the most fundamental level, I catch myself thinking that even suffrage is wasted on me now, since as a political agent, I’m spent – I’ll fight the safest fights, but if for one second I had to jeopardise my home life, had to consider going to prison, I’d unchain myself from the tree, apologise to the policemen, do whatever I had to do to return to the haven of obedience.

The mistake, I think (well, one of the mistakes) made by people who are against abortion is that they think an unwanted pregnancy results in an unwanted child. By that rationale, if you didn’t want the baby, you could give it up; you could keep it and leave your dangerous marriage; you could go back to your job or your education and leave the kid with a childminder, if you were that dead set against having it in the first place. You may have a baby you didn’t want, but all your other rights would be intact.

It’s absolute moonshine. Your other rights are toast. Your other rights have as much meaning as your statutory right to return goods to a shop that has burnt down. Abortion is the first right, and we should fight for it on that basis: our sine qua non; our main event.

Zoe is a journalist and you can follow her on Twitter here.

Anna Hedge

Lessons from across the pond…

The attitude to reproductive rights in the US, (the home of 40 Days for Life) is most accurately reflected by groups who are vehemently opposed to abortion and those groups represent the views of the majority. Right? Wrong.  Religious anti-choice groups do not even accurately represent the views of their co-religionists, most of whom are in fact pro-choice, reflecting the views of the majority of the population.

I discovered this whilst reading a recent survey ; it’s extremely interesting, not least because the situation regarding reproductive rights in America is often viewed as a precursor of developments here.

The headline statistic: Whilst a narrow majority of all Americans do regard abortion as being morally unacceptable (51%) a majority also think it should be legal in all or most cases (56%). Furthermore, almost a third of those that think it immoral (28%) also think it should be legal. In other words, most Americans do not think it is their right to visit the dictates of their conscience upon others, using the force of law to do so.

The attitude towards reproductive rights amongst US religious communities was extremely surprising.  Even amongst US Catholics, perceived as being the most anti-abortion of religions, 53% think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (vs 41% thinking it should be illegal). It must be granted that there is a strong correlation between the frequency of church attendance and opposition to abortion, however; 63% of those Catholics attending church once a week or more think it should be illegal, and 33% think it should be completely banned. Nevertheless,  with the exception of evangelical Protestants, every religious group taken as a whole thinks that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.  This stands in sharp contrast to the statistics on abortion’s morality where a clear religious majority think it immoral.

It should be noted that I highlight the attitudes of religious groups solely because 40DfL undertake prayer vigils, an overtly religious form of protest. In the interest of completeness therefore; amongst the religiously unaffiliated, 80% say that abortion should be legal, with 63% thinking it morally acceptable.

Although interesting, what has this to do with 40DfL’s tactics here?  The UK is a notably less religious society than the US, and the abortion debate in the US is either further advanced or polarised, according to your perspective.

Campaigns like 40DfL should be viewed in the context of the increasingly politicised pushback on women’s reproductive rights.  Parliamentary initiatives, such as the attempt to remove counselling from abortion providers undoubtedly draw on grassroots campaigns like 40DfL for at least some of their authority, and in turn their credibility is enhanced by this.  40DfL attempt to represent themselves as the voice of a ‘pro-life’ majority,  conflating opposition to abortion prompted by an individual’s conscience and that same individual wanting the law to be changed for other women, when as the evidence from America shows, the truth is considerably more nuanced.

You can follow Anna on Twitter and she blogs here.

EdinburghEye

Every day, about 800 women die of causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. Teenage girls are much more likely to die than older women – a girl under 15 who gets pregnant is five times more likely to die in pregnancy than a woman in her twenties. About four-fifths of all these deaths are caused by four killers: infection and blood-loss in or after childbirth, illegal abortion, and eclampsia. 

Eclampsia is lethal. If a woman develops pre-eclampsia, there are treatments to alleviate the symptoms, but if those don’t work, ultimately the only solution to save the woman’s life is to terminate the pregnancy, as fast as possible. This may mean an early delivery, but if it’s too early, it means an abortion.

Denying a woman with severe pre-eclampsia abortion is a death sentence for her and therefore for the foetus she is carrying. The argument that it is better for both to die than for the woman to live by having an abortion is a theological rather than a medical point, and most people accept this – even prolifers who argue that if it’s done purely to save the woman’s life obviously it’s not really an abortion, it’s a something-else.

The lifesaving benefits of safe, legal abortion and freely-available contraception as a means of terminating and preventing unwanted pregnancies are so obvious that prolifers have had to claim that the pill is an abortifacient (it isn’t), to invent a Munchausen-by-Proxy disease, “abortion trauma syndrome”, and to invent, distort, or outright lie about unproven or disproved links between abortion and physical illnesses such as cancer. 

But there seems to be a genuine link between abortion and eclampsia, shown by a study involving over 20,000 first-time mothers, some of whom had had abortions, some of who had had miscarriages. It’s known that a woman who has previously had a normal pregnancy without pre-eclampsia is much less likely to have pre-eclampsia in her next pregnancy. A woman who has had at least one abortion is 16% less likely to develop pre-eclampsia: two abortions mean she is 60% less likely.

Previous abortions protect against eclampsia. Abortion saves lives in more than one way.

Not that anyone on the prochoice side of the argument would advocate that a pregnant woman rush out and get an abortion if she doesn’t want one, just because doing so might ensure she was less likely to develop pre-eclampsia in the future. Women have the right and the obligation to make their own decisions.

As I wrote to a confused and hostile prolifer: “Anyone who supports full healthcare for pregnant women and children, who opposes war and hunger and poverty, is supporting the right to life of unborn children far more effectively than the lying hypocrites of the right-wing who claim they only want to ban abortion because of their love for foetuses.”

Abortion is healthcare is a human right, and prochoice is pro-life.

Check out Edinburgh Eye on Twitter.

Farzana Rahman

Self-declared “unwilling mother,” and why I am reclaiming this from Stephen Adams

Another perfunctory and obtuse story from the increasingly nasty anti-women Daily Telegraph last week highlighted the availability of the contraceptive ellaOne without prescription at pharmacies. Before commenting on some of the inaccuracies and misrepresentations in Stephen Adams’ article, I want to take issue with his accusatory sub-heading: “A contraceptive pill which enables unwilling mothers to prevent unwanted pregnancies up to five days after sex…” Unwilling mothers? SHOTS FIRED. I want to break this down, and I hasten to add I’m breaking it down for me; this is my personal response to Adams’ little vitriol. I don’t wish to descend to his low-cultured level and immediately wave my hands in the air and throw “unwilling fathers” back in his face. However, it is estimated that there are approximately 2 million single parent led families, which are headed by women in the UK. He would do well to consider that in any discussion of “unwilling” mothers.

Adams’ article is more to do with venting against recreational sex rather than pro-creational sex, hence his little dig at “unwilling mothers.” Every time I have sex, I don’t want to run the risk of pregnancy, which is why I always use condoms. I choose not to use hormonal methods of contraception as I object to the onus of responsibility for taking pills at the same time of day solely being on me as the woman. With condoms, there is an equity, (or should be) between my sexual partner and me; that we are both responsible for ensuring that pregnancy does not occur. In that sense, yes I am most definitely a very proud and responsible “unwilling mother.”

Consider these stats as well from Gingerbread:
•    The median weekly income for working single parent families doing 16 hours a week or more is £337, compared with £491 for couple families with one worker and £700 where both parents work;
•    38 per cent of single parents said that money always runs out before the end of the week/month compared to 19 per cent of couples;
•    Working single parents paying for childcare are much more likely than working couples paying for childcare to find it difficult to meet childcare costs (32% compared to 22% of couples where one partner is in work, and 20% of couples where both work).

Gingerbread works to tackle the stigmas and myths perpetuated against single parent families. A lot of their work is rooted in evidence-based research unlike the Telegraph’s default commentators on women’s reproductive rights: SPUC and the Family Educational Trust. Both of which reacted to the news that ellaOne would now be available over the counter at Co-Operative pharmacies with their predictable: “but it is an ABORTIFACIENT!” outrage. The NHS Choices website makes it clear, that the ulipistral acetate in ellaOne acts differently to levonorogestrel (found in the already available over-the-counter Levonelle emergency contraceptive), by acting on a progesterone receptor and is effective for a longer period that Levonelle (hence the misleading and downright stupid Daily Mail labelling of ellaOne as the ‘5 Day Promiscuity Pill’.) Neither of these pills are therefore abortifacients, they prevent the release of a fertilised egg.

Motherhood is not for a man to define. Men can define and play around with the definitions of fatherhood if they want, and they can trot out their nice little rose-tinted views of what this is, but to demonise women who are responsible and autonomous as “unwilling mothers” because of their contraceptive decisions is not for Stephen Adams, or Paul Tully (SPUC) or Norman Wells (Family Educational Trust) to decide. I am an unwilling mother because through no fault of my own, I was actually co-opted as a sort of mother and care-giver for my sister who has Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities. Just because I haven’t pushed something out of my vagina doesn’t mean that I don’t already do things, which could be seen as what mothers do. I am offended that a silly little man would dare to insult me in that way, therefore fuck you Stephen Adams, I am reclaiming “unwilling mother” from you.

You should totally check out Farzana’s tweets here.

Caspar Salmon

While the ‘40 Days for Life’ lot are nobly camping out across the country outside abortion clinics and fearlessly intimidating women, it may be worth discussing the question of what men have to say about this. You’re in a tricky position as a male feminist, because you need to be very clear from the off that you aren’t merely replicating, but from another stance, the thing that you’re attacking: namely, that you’re not telling women what to do with their bodies. That’s kind of what we’re all here for. Can a man have a useful voice, on this topic, or should we just agree to butt out of it, forever and ever amen? 

As a man who has sex with men (although perhaps not as often as I’d like), I would appear to be even more at a remove from the discussion. I will never be in the situation of getting a woman pregnant by accident, and therefore could fairly be expected not to have an intellectual or emotional investment in the finer points of the abortion argument.

Such, at any rate, was the way it was put to me by an awful person I had sex with, this one time. Look, we all make mistakes. I had been attending a meeting to discuss what response to formulate to the abortion amendment that had, at this point, recently been tabled by Nadine Dorries and Frank Field in the hope of stripping abortion providers of their counselling role. The idea behind Dorries’ terrible amendment was clearly to chip away however gradually at women’s abortion rights, by making women seeking abortions have to go through counselling with other bodies, many of which - it subsequently became ultra-clear - were highly ill-placed to provide such advice and would blatantly seek to make their anti-choice bias apparent in any counselling they delivered to pregnant women.

I explained to the chap where I had been, upon arriving at his flat after the meeting, and was met with undisguised incomprehension. “Why do you give a shit?” he asked. I explained that I give a shit because as a feminist I’m dispirited to see the necessary freedoms that women have fought so hard to attain being eroded in my lifetime, and am extremely concerned to be a part of any fight to preserve women’s rights. It appeared from his reaction that I was missing the wider point of why a man should care about women’s rights at all, and for that matter, why a homo should. The answer, to spell it out for anyone with only partial logical ability or under the age of four, is that the rights of women are everybody’s rights; the rights of women are human rights. More: it makes my mind boggle to think that a gay man in 2011 (this was then) might not perceive the clear links between the feminist combat and the LGBT combat. A woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy concerns everybody, since it is about according a fellow human the liberty to live her own life unfettered by the demands of motherhood, if such is her wish, that she might elect to be a mother at a time of her own choosing, or not as the case may be. Gay rights also concern everyone, since they participate in a similar way in the ongoing struggle to obtain basic human rights for all. These questions are absurd: was I supposed not to care about the shooting of Trayvon Martin because I don’t have a black son? Would I be allowed to dismiss the treatment of the elderly, since I myself am (reasonably) young? What does it matter to me, for that matter, that disabled people and the poor are being further disenfranchised under this government, as I am able-bodied and financially comfortable? This is a ridiculous logic. We all have a duty of care to each other.

That I still slept with this person despite his horrible stance on abortion (it turned out he was anti-; big surprise) in no way diminishes this truth. As a Turkish man living openly in London as a gay person, he should have been very clear that the liberties I was discussing at the rally are similar to liberties afforded him in his town of choice but not in his home country (where gay men are not allowed to perform national service openly, and are issued with a pink folder that is circulated to employers upon non-completion of national service, to signify that they are gay men. Gay men wishing not to do national service must provide photographic evidence (!) to support their claim).

As a gay man, I also think that I have a stance to bring to the debate, in terms of my attitude to parenting. Because, as I said above in slightly different terms, rare is the gay person who gets pregnant by mistake. It may be that sometimes this is a happy mistake for straight couples who then decide, to hell with it, to go ahead with the pregnancy. But I could just as often wish that care and planning went a little more into the securing of a ‘straight’ pregnancy, as it does when same sex couples decide to become parents. In these discussions between homo parents-to-be, everything from the way of parenting to the availability of schools, choice of names, time with grandparents, is raised and debated, before then deciding to wop out the turkey baster*. A key part of the abortion debate centres around making all children be wanted children, which is clearly an impossibility if access to abortion is limited or removed. Listen to the gays! We’re all in this together! It gets better! No pasaran!

*A turkey baster is actually not at all the right piece of equipment, because too unwieldy and comical, and savvy homos will favour a syringe.

Jennifer Reiter
Gail Teasdale
David Robert Grimes
Nicky Clark
Katy Ladbrook
Lisa Hallgarten
Joyce Arthur
Annie Tidbury
Heather Corinna
Education For Choice
Zoe Williams
Anna Hedge
EdinburghEye
Farzana Rahman
Caspar Salmon

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