Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign
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Abortion Rights News June 2011

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The Pro-Choice Movement Fights Back!

For the past few months we’ve been bringing you news of a series of proposals that threaten reproductive choice in the UK – cuts to contraception and sexual health services, increased waiting times for terminations and new pre-abortion counselling requirements. And the onslaught is continuing: in this month’s newsletter there’s an update on moves to introduce girls-only ‘abstinence-based’ sex education and on the appointment of anti-choice group LIFE to the government’s new sexual health advisory forum.

While these are all cause for great concern, we have reasons to be cheerful: pro-choice supporters are getting energised, getting angry and are fighting back! So this month’s newsletter is all about activism, because it’s time to make the voice of the UK’s pro-choice majority heard again! And to kick us off…

Join the Pro-choice Protest!

Saturday 9th July, from 1.30pm, Old Palace Yard, Westminster

We want as many Abortion Rights supporters as possible to join us at a Pro-Choice Demo outside Parliament next month. Organised by Swansea Feminist Network, the event aims to bring together the growing number of people who are angry at recent attempts to restrict access to abortion and erode the principle that reproductive choice is a fundamental women’s – and human – right. 

We can’t let a vocal minority of anti-choice politicians and activists get their own way. So why not come along and make some noise for the pro-choice majority? We’re lining up some great speakers and we’re hoping for a big turnout and a fun, (hopefully sunny!) day. The more costumes, hats, placards, kids, pets, the better!

You can sign up on Facebook, or you can email Swansea Feminist Network for more info. Details are also available on our website or drop us a line here at Abortion Rights to pledge your support.

Here’s a map of the location.

We’ll be emailing you more reminders in the run up to the demo, so please do put the date in your diary and in the meantime follow the Twitter hashtag #prochoicedemo2011 for updates.

Pro-choice public meeting

Support for the demo was a strong theme coming out of a pro-choice meeting held in London earlier this month. The meeting, organised by Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy and Jess McCabe, editor of the F Word, brought together pro-choice supporters, bloggers, feminists and journalists to share ideas and talk about how we can best work together to counter the activities of vocal anti-choice politicians and activists and how we can take back the agenda to make sure the voice of the pro-choice majority is heard. 

We heard first from shadow public health minister (and long-time abortion rights campaigner) Diane Abbott who reminded us that the “price we pay for the right to choose is eternal vigilance”. She also warned that the new intake of Tory MPs is very right-wing on these issues and pointed out that the concern for the rights of the unborn child expressed by anti-choice activists rarely extends beyond birth – the same MPs who would restrict abortion rights are often supportive of cuts to benefits and public services which are vital to child and family wellbeing.

Next up was Darinka Aleksic, from Abortion Rights, who outlined the various anti-choice measures coming out of Westminster at the moment and emphasised how cuts to contraception and sexual health services and increased waiting times for abortion access were already impacting reproductive choice. 

She also emphasised the need to take back the agenda from anti-choice politicians such as Nadine Dorries, who are using a media-friendly message of female empowerment to introduce anti-choice measures which will impede and stigmatise women seeking abortion. 

The final speaker was Lisa Hallgarten, director of Education for Choice. Lisa pointed out the need for the pro-choice movement to draw on evidence-based, clinically accurate information when refuting anti-choice statements, which are often based on false premises and misleading information. Our arguments need to be based on proven evidence about what works in practice. She also emphasised the need to take care with our language and attitudes in everyday conversation (never using the term ‘pro-life’ for example). 

The floor was then thrown open for questions and comments and there was much discussion of how we can bring a pro-choice message to a wider audience, how we can make sure our arguments are heard in the popular press and on television – an area where anti-choice advocates, especially Nadine Dorries, have been particularly successful. 

There was also discussion of the presence of organisations such as SPUC and LIFE in schools, and the misleading information about sex, contraception and abortion that they bring to young people, and a reminder that the current state of affairs – where women in Northern Ireland have no access to abortion services and women across the UK experience delays and barriers to accessing services – is not good enough.

Many thanks to all those who attended and contributed their views. Now it’s time to build on this new start. How do you think we can take back the agenda from anti-choice campaigners? We would love to hear your ideas.

Counselling amendments to the Health and Social Care bill – WRITE NOW!

As Diane Abbott pointed out at the meeting, the amendments to the Health and Social Care bill introduced by Nadine Dorries and Frank Field which propose creating a new requirement for GPs to provide counselling for women seeking abortion are potentially a real threat to timely access to the procedure.

Now that some parts of the Health and Social Care bill are going back to Committee Stage, it seems likely that the amendments, were they to be accepted, would come before Parliament in September. We have to act now to prevent this happening and we really need you to write to your MP expressing your opposition.

The amendments would require GPs to provide ‘independent advice and counselling’ to women seeking abortion – opening the door for anti-choice ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centres’ to become involved in advising women facing unplanned pregnancy.

They also call for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to be stripped of its role in drawing up clinical guidelines for the care of women requesting abortion.

The purpose of these amendments is to limit access to abortion services and deter women from having the procedure. We want to make sure MPs know the facts about what these changes would mean for women if they were to succeed and hear the views of the pro-choice majority who support the right to safe, legal abortion in this country.

We’ve provided a model letter outlining why these amendments should be rejected, which you can print out and send – just add the name of your local MP, which you can find out here. (You’re also welcome to adapt the letter or write your own, of course).

We’ve also provided a briefing sheet on the issue which you might want to include with your letter.

So write to your MP today and make your voice heard!

Anger as anti-choice group joins government sexual health panel

The issue which seems to have been the tipping point for recent pro-choice anger is the news that anti-choice group LIFE have been invited to sit on the government’s new sexual health advisory forum. The invitation has caused particular concern not only because LIFE is opposed to abortion in all circumstances and does not provide any sexual health services, but also because leading abortion-provider BPAS has not been included in the new group.

The Department of Health claims that LIFE has been appointed to the forum to provide a ‘balance’ of views, and that BPAS has been excluded because its stance is similar to that of fellow abortion-provider Marie Stopes International, which will sit on the panel. 

The inclusion of LIFE is deeply worrying. While the organisation is entitled to its views in relation to abortion and sexuality, the sexual health forum will advise the government on public policy, which must be rooted in scientific fact and medical evidence. It seems unclear how the forum will be able to operate around an organisation which falsely claims that abortion causes breast cancer, infertility and ‘post-abortion syndrome’.

However, opposition to the move has been strong and it was good to see not only sexual health groups but politicians too expressing their concern. Both Yvette Cooper and Diane Abbott spoke out from the Labour Party, as did former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris. 

Read more

‘Abstinence-based’ sex education: misguided and moralising

Another story that has sparked huge amounts of media coverage has been Nadine Dorries’ 10 Minute Rule bill proposing the introduction of ‘abstinence-based’ sex education for 13-16 year old girls (yes, just girls). Dorries engaged in a media blitz to spread the message that instructing teenage girls not to have sex was not only empowering, but the best way to counter a range of societal ills, from the prevalence of pornography to paedophilia to benefit-dependent teenage motherhood. 

The bill won its Commons vote following a poorly attended debate last month, with support from members of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, and will now receive a second reading in January 2012. 

Did your MP vote in favour of this misguided proposal? Find out here, and ask them why! Or if they weren’t in the chamber, write to ask for their views on the issue and express you opposition. 

There is ample evidence from the US that taking an abstinence-based approach to sex education is counter-productive. America has high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection in young people. 

All young people have a right to high quality comprehensive Sex and Relationships Education – but many leave school without receiving it. Combined with access to contraception and sexual health services, it’s the best way to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and empower young people to make informed choices about their lives. 

Read more here and here.

2010 abortion statistics released

The latest abortion statistics for England and Wales were released in May by the Department of Health and show a stable level of the number of terminations taking place. 189,574 abortions were carried out in 2010, a slight increase of 0.3% on the previous year’s figures. In Scotland, rates fell for a second successive year, with increased sexual health education campaigns credited for the significant drop in abortion rates seen in the Lothians area.

Read more

News just in…

The British Medical Association is due to debate its position on the abortion time limit at its Annual Meeting on 28th June. Delegates will debate a motion entitled ‘Calls to reduce the abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks’.

When the abortion time limit was last debated in Parliament, during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill in 2008, the BMA, along with other major medical bodies, supported keeping the current 24 week time limit – as did MPs, who voted decisively to maintain the status quo. 

Abortion Rights strongly believes that for the small number of women who require a later abortion each year – who often face extremely difficult circumstances – the right to termination at up to 24 weeks is vital, and we hope that the BMA will continue to support this position. 

We’ll keep you updated on what happens and the result of any vote that takes place.

Abortion Rights needs your support!

With all this anti-choice activity going on, Abortion Rights needs your support more than ever. Like all non-profits we’re struggling to make ends meet at the moment, and as a membership-based organisation we rely on attracting new recruits, returning supporters and individual donors to help us keep our head above water. Without your help we’ll struggle to campaign effectively against these renewed threats to our right to choose.

We really need pro-choice supporters to join up or make a donation today. A membership form is attached below or go to our website to donate or join online.

And if you’re already a member, spread the word and let your friends and colleagues know that the national pro-choice campaign needs their support!

Remember to follow us on Twitter and Facebook!