'After Tiller' comes to London & Sheffield
Later term abortion documentary After Tiller, showing in Sheffield and London
In Britain we are seeing the increasing ‘Americanisation’ of anti-choice tactics, with groups such as Abort67 (named after the year the Abortion Act was introduced and women in Britain were able to access safe, legal abortions) and 40 Days for Life picketing and praying outside abortion clinics displaying provocative images and boasting about the women they turned away on their blogs. They are choosing to focus on women - often extremely vulnerable women – at clinics rather than involve themselves in evidence based discussions in the media or in Parliament.
Nadine Dorries and other anti choice MPs have consistently attempted to use the time limit discussion as a tactic to draw the debate towards more restrictive abortion laws and increased barriers in the way of women accessing terminations generally. The current time limit in England, Wales and Scotland stands at 24 weeks in most circumstances. Later term abortions are rare, fewer than 2% of terminations occur after 20 weeks, but these are often the most vulnerable women in difficult situations.
It is true that the abortion debate is much worse in the USA, but this should stand as a warning to pro-choice activists in Britain that if we are not vigilant, where America leads Britain often follows.
A new documentary premiering at the Showroom in Sheffield at Sheffield Doc/Fest on June 14 and 15 and showing in London as part of the East End Film Festival at the Barbican on July 6; After Tiller, focuses on the stories of those left behind after the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas in 2009 – one of the few doctors providing legal third-trimester abortions for women in the USA.
Lana Wilson and Martha Shane’s sensitive and extremely moving documentary, is a story of people who risk their lives every day for their work, many of whom were close colleagues of Dr. Tiller and now battle to maintain this service in the face of increasing provocation and harassment from the pro-life movement.
Inquest opens into death of Savita Halappanavar
Case heard as Irish doctors reject calls for abortion rights when woman's life at risk
An inquest into the death of Savita Halappananvar, who died in October after contracting septicaemia following a miscarriage – apparently having been denied a therapeutic abortion – has opened in Galway.
Among the first witnesses to give evidence was Praveen Halappanavar, Savita's husband. Mr Halappanavar has consistently maintained that his repeated requests for a termination were refused over the course of several days as his wife's condition deteriorated, because a foetal heartbeat was still present and, he was told, because Ireland "is a Catholic country".
Earlier this month the Irish Health Service Executive apologised to Mr Halappanavar for the care Savita received at Galway University Hospital and the events that contributed to her death. Its draft report on the case has found there was an 'overemphasis' on the foetus and an 'underemphasis' on Savita's deteriorating health.
The inquest opens days after doctors at the annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation voted against several motions calling for access to abortion in cases of rape, incest, foetal abnormality and risk to the life of the woman.
Northern Ireland: Progress at last
A family planning charity's legal challenge has forced the Department of Health in Stormont to promise to issue draft guidelines on abortion, after years of stonewalling and delays.
The 1967 Abortion Act does not cover Northern Ireland, where abortion is governed by an Act from 1861, and is illegal in most circumstances. As FPA pointed out in a statement, "there are no good practice guidelines to enable clinicians and women to interpret the law."
The FPA had to take the Northern Irish Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) to court to extract a promise to issue draft guidelines - a process which took 11 years. The new guidelines will be published on March 7.
Outside the High Court in Belfast, Audrey Simpson, acting CEO of FPA, said: "The action now promised by the department is something that should have happened many years ago.
"It's essential that the guidance should contain clear pathways for referrals for women and directions for aftercare services which is essentially what these proceedings were all about."
Abortion Rights welcomes the DHSSPS's announcement that it will publish draft guidelines, as they are urgently needed to clarify the legal situation. We regret however that it took a legal challenge lasting more than a decade to bring the DHSSPS to this point.
Two steps forward, one step back
Following the good news on draft abortion guidelines, the pro-choice movement in Northern Ireland suffered a setback the very next day, when two MLAs announced they would seek an amendment to Northern Irish law to make it illegal for non-NHS providers to offer terminations in the province.
As the Irish Times reported, "If the amendment is carried and if there is no successful legal challenge to this move, it could have consequences for the operations of the [Marie] Stopes clinic in Belfast. It opened in October as the first private clinic to provide legal abortion on the island of Ireland."
Sinn Féin has said it will oppose the amendment. South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane said seeking to prevent abortion outside the NHS was “clearly an attempt to restrict the right of a woman to obtain a termination in life-threatening circumstances”.
The amendment will be voted on next Tuesday (March 5).
Anti-abortion sentiment dwindling, report finds
19.02.13, Natasha Fox
A survey carried out for a religious think tank has found that suppport for an outright ban on abortion is declined significantly in recent years, while pro-choice sentiment is on the rise.
A YouGov poll for the 'Westminster Faith Debates' and reported in The Guardian found the percentage of the population wanting a ban has fallen from 12% in 2005 to 7% today. The survey found support for keeping the current limit on terminations has risen by a third to a clear majority of 57%. It was found that factors such as gender, age and voting preference did not make much difference to attitudes on abortion.
Suprisingly, the study found there was no marked difference between the views of people with religious affiliations and everybody else. Among those identifying with a religion, 43% were in favour of keeping or raising the 24-week limit, compared with 46% of the general population. 30% percent wanted to see it lowered (compared with 28% while 9% supported a ban (compared with 7%). Of the religious people who were surveyed, Catholics, Muslims and Baptists are the most hostile to abortion, but only half said that they wanted to see the law changed.
Commenting on the findings, Linda Woodhead, a professor in the department of politics, philosophy and religion at Lancaster university said,
"The impression one gets from many religious leaders and spokespeople is that most religious people are opposed to the liberalising trend in society. That is just not true and statistics like this give the lie to that view."
Report finds anti-abortion groups misleading schoolchildren
A new report has found worrying evidence of anti-abortion groups providing schoolchildren with false information.
Education for Choice (EFC) commissioned a report, "Abortion education in the UK - failing our young people?", into how the issue is taught in schools around the country. It found evidence of damaging misinformation about abortion being repeated by anti-choice activists.
For example, the three main anti-abortion groups invited into schools to talk to pupils have all claimed that abortion causes breast cancer – a link that has been repeatedly disproved ("At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer" - the American Cancer Society).
Apart from the issue of anti-abortion groups lying to pupils, which is serious enough in its own right, the report found widespread failings in how abortion is discussed in schools – when it is brought up in the classroom at all, that is. EFC found that nearly 30 percent of young people surveyed had not been taught anything at all about abortion.
In addition to examining the misinfomation disseminated by anti-choice educational groups, the report also looked at stigmatisation and equality issues. It found that some pupils reported being told by teachers or external speakers that abortion is sinful, "murder", shameful, and so on. EFC noted: "This is upsetting for those who have had an abortion, and may cause unnecessary distress for those who go on to experience abortion (one in three women in England and Wales)."
Irish pro-choice campaign launched as antis rally
A new group that will campaign for abortion rights in the Republic of Ireland has been launched.
The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) was officially established in Dublin on Saturday 19th January. Its aims include "legislation on the X & C cases and repeal of the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution," the group said in a press release.
Clare Daly, a member of the Dáil Éireann who attended ARC's launch, commented:
"The Abortion Rights Campaign is not a sprint, it's a marathon and we're here for the long haul. In the meantime, we want the immediate introduction of legislation for the right to safe, legal abortion when a woman's life is at risk, including from suicide. We also want the simplest, broadest legislation that includes the right to abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality. We will keep the pressure on until we get this."
On the same day that ARC was officially launched, a large anti-abortion demonstration took place in Dublin. Buses were laid on by the well-funded Irish anti-choice groups in order to ferry people to the protest in Merrion Square, which was "expertly stage-managed", according to the Irish Times' Miriam Lord.
Lord added that while the demonstration was "lavishly resourced" and "showbizzy", it "lacked spontaneity", while anti-abortion protesters whose signs were "unauthorised" by the organisers were corralled off to one side, and not allowed to get near the main crowd – or the media cameras covering the event.
The rally comes amid renewed interest in the backers of Irish anti-choice organisations, with the Irish Times reporting an influx of money from foreign groups. Both the Pro-Life Campaign and Life Institute receive foreign money – as does Youth Defence, which likes to present itself as a 'grassroots' campaign.
A new US-based tax-exempt fundraising organisation has also been set up to funnel anti-abortion dollars from American donors to Irish campaigners. Life House Ireland solicits donations to be used for "informational and educational projects".
Despite the cold, a hardy group of pro-choice protesters turned out last night with placards and glowsticks to make some noise at the launch of new anti-abortion group Alliance of Pro-Life Students.
Around 50 pro-choice Londoners, the majority of them students, waved signs and chanted pro-choice slogans – "Pro-life? That's a lie. You don't care if women die!" the most popular – as the launch party attendees (£25 per ticket, £15 for concessions) piled out of black cabs and through the doors of the Thistle hotel, near Marble Arch.
There were some great speeches, including one from Kelley Temple, NUS Women's officer, who made the point that "anti-choice is anti-student", and reiterated the NUS's commitment to abortion rights. A speaker from the Bloomsbury Pro-Choice group reminded protesters that 40 Days for Life are gearing up for another of their biannual protests – and that BPC would be there to stand up for the right to choose.
The usual lone anti-abortion protester was there to protest our protest (!), and at one point the police officers there to keep the protesters in line tried to move him into the area set aside for us pro-choicers – although they quickly reconsidered when it was pointed out that we were on opposite sides.
As ever, it was a great pleasure to be among like-minded pro-choice people, and a big thank you to all who showed up.
Parliamentary abortion hearings take place in Dublin
14.01.13, Joanna Tacon
A committee of the Republic of Ireland's parliament, the Oireachtas, has held a series of hearings on the subject of abortion – specifically, investigating how the X case should be legislated.
The Joint Committee on Health and Children's session on abortion heard submissions from a variety of interested parties, including religious groups and medical experts.
Abortion in Eire is currently illegal in all but a few cases, involving danger to the life of the mother, and the lack of legislation on the matter means there is uncertainty among doctors about when a termination is legally justified.
The hearings were always going to attract strong opinions, given the sensitivity of the issue of abortion in the Republic of Ireland, but in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar, there has been heightened media interest. The hearings were brought forward in response to the furore following Savita's case, amid reports that her death following a miscarriage could have been avoided had doctors heeded her wish for a termination.
TheJournal.ie has several comprehensive articles on the proceedings of the committee covering Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday’s hearings.
A recent poll, reported in the Irish Times, found that 64% of respondents are in favour of changing current abortion law.
Abortion Rights comments: "This is a long overdue reaction to the X case, and we are glad to see that legislation which clarifies the legal position for doctors could well be on the horizon.
"Following Savita's tragic death, her family has expressed a wish that the law in the Republic of Ireland be amended to protect women in a similar situation. We hope that their wish is fulfilled.
"In the long term, Ireland will have to face up to the issue of abortion, with thousands of Irish women traveling abroad for a termination every year. But in the meantime, any movement towards liberalising Irish laws – some of the most restrictive in Europe – is welcome news."
'Conscientious objection' nurses launch appeal
10.01.13, Joanna Tacon
Two Catholic nurses are appealing a court decision which found that they were in breach of their contract terms when they refused to "delegate, supervise or support staff looking after women undergoing terminations".
Midwives Mary Doogan and Concepta Wood suffered a comprehensive defeat in the Court of Session in Edinburgh last year, with Lady Smith finding that the right to conscientious objection with regard to providing abortions did not cover the tasks they were expected to perform as labour ward supervisors, such as drawing up timetables, and supervising staff who did provide terminations.
Lady Smith said in her judgement: "They are not being asked to play any direct role in bringing about terminations of pregnancy. Nothing they have to do as part of their duties terminates a woman's pregnancy. They are sufficiently removed from direct involvement as, it seems to me, to afford appropriate respect for and accommodation of their beliefs."
The midwives' QC Gerry Moynihan said in his opening remarks at the appeal hearing that whichever side lost the appeal, the case would more than likely end up at the Supreme Court in London for a final ruling.
Doogan and Wood, who work at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, received financial support for their case from anti-abortion group SPUC.
Whatever the outcome of this case, the eventual ruling will affect hospitals all over the UK.
MPs call for compulsory Sex and Relationships Education
A cross-party inquiry into unplanned pregnancy, led by MPs Amber Rudd, Sandra Osborne and Lorely Burt, has called for the introduction of statutory Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in schools.
The report, published today, calls for a national strategy to tackle unplanned pregnancy, with key recommendations including comprehensive SRE with a focus on relationships, informed choice and self-esteem and the provision for consistent, equal access to contraception – particularly for older women.
Abortion Rights welcomed the report’s findings, saying:
“We are really pleased that the inquiry recognises that the provision of high-quality Sex and Relationships Education and access to contraception are key to reducing abortion rates as well as unplanned pregnancy.
All too often, restricting access to abortion is seen as the way to reducing the number of abortions which take place. This is not the case. All that achieves is to drive women to seek unsafe methods to end their pregnancies, or, particularly in the case of young women, to enter into early motherhood.
The combination of consistent contraception access and relevant relationships and sex education is the only way to bring down rates of unplanned pregnancy and abortion.
We call on the government to implement the inquiry’s recommendations and to incorporate them into its national sexual health policies.”
Read the full report here.