Welcome to our latest round-up of campaign news and pro-choice issues on our radar – abortion counselling, public health reform, anti-choice protests, global news and a look at what Abortion Rights has been up to recently. Where next on counselling?
On the abortion counselling front, there has been little movement from the Department of Health since the Parliamentary debate. As many of you will know, amendments to the Health and Social Care bill tabled by Nadine Dorries, which sought to strip abortion providers of their role in counselling women about their pregnancy choices, were comprehensively defeated in Parliament in September. At that time the Department of Health committed to holding a consultation on abortion counselling to further examine whether any change was needed. Since then, there has been little in the way of public pronouncements on the issue from the DH. When Diane Abbott sought clarification from Public Health Minister Anne Milton, she was told they were still ‘developing proposals’.
However, it now seems that the Department of Health aims to complete their planning for the consultation but the end of 2011, suggesting a launch in the New Year. We have also learned that that Departmental officials are conducting site visits to inspect current counselling systems. As we would expect, abortion providers BPAS and Marie Stopes have received visits, but alarmingly, the officials are also visiting the pregnancy counselling services offered by anti-choice groups LIFE and Care Confidential.
It would seem that ministers are seriously considering allowing these organisations, which are ideologically opposed to abortion and which have a track record of providing misleading and judgemental advice to clients, to be formally involved in NHS abortion and pregnancy decision-making care. Although it now seems that future changes to counselling regulations will not strip abortion providers of their right to advise patients on their choices, which is a victory in itself, allowing anti-choice groups to join them in offering this service would be an extremely negative step, undermining the right to accurate, unbiased information, as well as creating many practical problems and in all likelihood, serious delays. Abortion Rights will keep you updated as we hear more about the consultation – this is an issue that hasn’t gone away and we need a robust response from pro-choice supporters and groups.
Why pro-choice supporters should care about Public Health reform
Another key campaign issue which pro-choice advocates will need to focus on in the coming months is the government’s planned reform of the public health system, which will potentially have far reaching consequences for the delivery of abortion services. The plans, laid out in the government’s Public Health White Paper, mean that responsibility for abortion and most sexual health services will be transferred from Primary Care Trusts to Local Authorities. Abortion Rights, alongside healthcare professionals and sexual health groups, is concerned that this move threatens to turn the commissioning of abortion and sexual health services into political issues at local level, potentially resulting in some areas of the country voting to severely limit abortion service provision on financial or ideological grounds. Allowing elected local counsellors or even representatives of anti-choice or religious groups to serve on planned ‘Health and Wellbeing Boards’ opens up clinical commissioning decisions to political and ideological influence. Have a look at our briefing on the issue to find out more.
The issue is starting to attract the attention of MPs and anti-choice advocates. Following Parliamentary Questions on the issue, anti-choice group SPUC have started a campaign to ensure that Local Authorities are not required by the Department of Health to commission abortion services at all. Abortion Rights is raising these concerns with colleagues in health, equalities and trade unions groups and is urging them to include the issue in their campaigning work on NHS reform. We will also be discussing the issue at a Parliamentary Group meeting this month and will update supporters on what we find out.
New abortion guidelines – some positive steps
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have published a revised version of their guidance on the Care of Women Seeking Induced Abortion. The advice provides welcome acknowledgement that abortion is not linked to breast cancer, infertility or increased risk of mental health problems – all of which are frequently claimed by anti-choice advocates. The College also recommends that women should be able to complete the second stage of medical abortion treatment at home and confirms its safety – a valuable support to campaigning efforts for change in this area.
Most significantly, the College has published a Question and Answer paper on abortion counselling, alongside the full Guidance. The document emphasises the need for abortion counselling to remain optional and for it to be medically accurate and unbiased. It also acknowledges the fact that most women will already have made up their mind to have an abortion before seeking out an abortion provider. It is vital that the Department of Health takes on board the College’s recommendations when it considers altering abortion counselling regulations and it will certainly form a key part of Abortion Rights’ submission to the consultation.
What have we been up to? Campaign activities
Abortion Rights has been out and about over the past few weeks, flying the flag for the pro-choice movement at all sorts of events. On Saturday 26th November, Abortion Rights Vice-Chair Kate Smurthwaite spoke at the rally following the annual Reclaim the Night march, and the previous Saturday she addressed the Fawcett Society’s Don’t Turn Back Time on Women’s Equality Day of Action – where she warned (coathanger in hand!) of the dangers to women’s health of cutting abortion services. We were also at UK Feminista’s FEM 11 conference this month (alongside over a thousand feminists!), where Abortion Rights Executive Committee member Becca Morden gave a workshop on reproductive rights to a packed house. On a more formal note (less fun, but also important!) we were invited to address the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health where, alongside Marie Stopes International, we discussed the ongoing abortion counselling campaign and looked at how public health reform may impact abortion services.
We also took part in the TUC’s Equality Deficit Conference, which brought together trade unionists, campaigners and voluntary sector organisations to discuss the impact of public spending cuts and public service reform on equality. In our session on NHS reform we looked at how cuts to contraception, sexual health and teen pregnancy services are threatening young people’s welfare, and (again!) discussed how changes to Public Health systems will impact abortion services.
We also highlighted the alarming news that the abortion clinic at South Tyneside Hospital has recently been closed as a cost cutting measure, putting vulnerable patients at risk. On 24th November, Abortion Rights Chair Ann Henderson addressed a memorial service held in Parliament for Terry Marsland, who passed away earlier this year. Organised by the National Assembly of Women, the event remembered Terry’s huge contribution to both the trade union movement and pro-choice campaigning – we were honoured to take part.
Repro rights news
In America the anti-choice onslaught continues, with new bills across the country seeking to restrict abortion access. There was some rare good news recently when an extreme anti-choice measure in Mississippi – the Personhood Amendment – which sought to define life as starting at fertilisation, outlawing abortion much birth control and potentially criminalising miscarriage, was rejected by voters.
At international level, there were positive developments at the UN recently with a new report from Special Rapporteur on Health Anand Grover which highlighted the health costs of the criminalisation of abortion and called for the removal of restrictions. Anti-choice advocates have also been trying to exert authority at international level however. In October they launched what they are calling the San Jose Articles, a standard anti-choice document, given an ‘authoritative’ spin with the intention of garnering international support and insertion into international treaties. We would ask those working in the field to keep an eye out for its promotion or use, and to drop us a line if it turns up.
The anti-choice movement took its message to primary school level recently (because targeting five-year-olds is always the way forward), with one group displaying anti-abortion advertisements near a school in Surrey. Even more alarmingly, anti-choice advocates within the BNP targeted a Sheffield primary school to protest about the school’s Sex and Relationships Education and threatened to picket the head teachers home. Still with anti-choice protesting, extremist group Abort 67 have popped up again outside a Brighton abortion clinic. Members were arrested for public order offences last year after refusing to remove graphic images of aborted foetuses during a clinic protest. Education for Choice has written a thoughtful response to calls for counter-protests against this kind of activity, and last month we reported on a lovely Pro-choice and Pro-sweets response to another anti-choice demo: When Christian anti-choice group 40
Days for Life began another of its annual protests outside abortion clinics in London and Birmingham last month, a couple of very nice pro-choice supporters decided to take a stand. They set up 40 Days of Treats, to offer support and thanks to abortion clinic staff by taking them gifts of cakes and sweets for the duration of the protest and to encourage others to do the same. They even sent a (very undeserved) package to us! We’d like to thank them for their brilliant and very kind idea – we know that our colleagues at BPAS and elsewhere are hugely grateful too. Pro-choice activism through the medium of sweets – we like it!
Calling all teachers!
Education For Choice are a pro-choice education charity offering a range of services and resources for talking to young people about abortion, including their FPA award-winning ‘Talk About Choice’ programme. Speakers give presentations or smaller class-sized workshops in London schools, colleges or youth centres which allow young people to consider the realities of unplanned pregnancy and abortion, promoting evidence-based information and an impartial, non-judgmental approach to the issue. For more information on EFC’s resources and training see their website. To book a Talk About Choice session contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Case study call
The Telegraph Magazine would like to interview women who have had an abortion at the age of 40 or above, for a piece following up studies suggesting abortion rates are rising in this age group.
Participants would remain anonymous and interviews can be conducted over the phone or in person. If you are interested in taking part, please get in touch with Telegraph journalist Sally Williams. Here’s a link to some of her other articles for the newspaper.
If you’re not a member yet, why not join up today: just visit our website or download the attached membership form.