A pro-choice campaigner in Northern Ireland. Unsafe practices should be ended ‘by legalising abortion in Northern Ireland and around the world’. Photograph: Reuters
The battle for a woman’s right to choose when it comes to abortion is usually framed in terms of geographical boundaries, time limits and clinic regulation. For a woman experiencing that knot of panic from a missed period or devastating news – sickness, job loss, relationship breakdown – during a planned pregnancy, these things are vital. But to have real control over what is happening to her, she also needs clear and accurate information about her choices.
These organisations have useful and official-sounding names, such as the Central London Women’s Centre and CareConfidential. The latter is even linked to on the NHS’s official website page on abortion. At first glance they look like any other medical centre.
The information they provide, however, doesn’t meet the standards we expect from NHS-approved medical advice providers. Many are telling women there is a link between abortion and infertility. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says there is no evidence of such a link for legal abortion. The risks are real but only for women who have illegal, “backstreet” abortions. The conclusion we should draw is the urgent need to end these unsafe practices by legalising abortion in Northern Ireland and around the world.
What all this cynical scaremongering fails to take into account is that abortion is not something that women choose because it matches their handbag.
Women don’t visit these centres before deciding to have unsafe sex. Condoms don’t visit these centres before they decide whether or not to split. Antibiotics don’t wander in asking if they should interact with the contraceptive pill. Rapists aren’t queued up outside flicking through sexual health literature.
These women are already experiencing crisis pregnancy. The alternative to abortion is carrying the pregnancy to term and delivering it. And that does have direct links to physical and mental health risks, including infections, physical damage and postnatal depression. There’s also the risk of being a parent when you don’t want to be, and there’s no getting round the fact that that can make a complete mess of your whole life.
Those clinics deliberately passing off lies and horror stories as medical fact need to be closed down. Those that remain need clear signage on their doors, websites and literature stating that they are anti-abortion organisations and that their advice should be taken, if at all, with that in mind. The NHS needs to keep its distance and ensure women are not being referred to these centres.
And one more thing. We need to do better with sex education. We need a major overhaul of the current decade-old set-up to create something comprehensive, fact-based and compulsory that reaches young women, and men, before this sort of crisis ever does.