Wednesday 19 December 2012

Feminist group uncovers misleading pregnancy counselling in Cambridgeshire

This weekend Feminist Action Cambridge held a demo in Cambridge city centre to raise awareness of local ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ which they feel are ‘using emotionally manipulative techniques’ and misinformation ‘in order to increase the guilt women might feel at having an abortion.’

They sent mystery shoppers to three counselling centres in Cambridgeshire and found that at each one women were being given some kind of false information about abortion and/or subjected to ‘counselling’ which was biased and often based on personal anecdotes.

Counsellors at all three centres spoke about the possibility of suffering from ‘post-abortion syndrome’ after ending a pregnancy, despite this being an invented medical condition. A mystery shopper in Ely was told that ‘some people will have all sorts of traumas about it and dreams about it and sort of lots of awful stuff goes on’, in Newmarket the counsellor claimed abortion could lead to ‘feeling of distance from existing children, inability to maintain a normal routine...feeling depressed, sleep problems, disturbing dreams .’ Counsellors lacked accurate medical information and misrepresented the possible physical complications of abortion. For example, in Newmarket the counsellor read from inaccurate materials; ‘there’s likely to be a higher risk of miscarriage and preterm labour but they haven’t put any, there’s no stats for that. So treat that with a pinch of salt, for the moment.’

Unfortunately these findings from Cambridgeshire support what we know about many other independent pregnancy counselling centres across the country. Volunteer mystery shoppers have reported back to us on centres giving misinformation, or presenting an extremely biased account of the pregnancy options. For example, in Bedford earlier this year a mystery shopper was told that ‘they tend not to do surgical terminations because there’s an increased risk of damage to the woman’s can lead in future pregnancies to, the pregnancies falling through the cervix’. Another counsellor in Halifax recounted her own experience and conflated being sterilised after her abortion with a general risk of infertility following abortion:

‘What can happen, and does happen, but not in everybody is it (abortion) can prevent you from having other children. I don’t know how it happens. Also if you have a baby after having an abortion it can quite often not go to full term. I’m not saying they’re stillborn or anything...I don’t think deformity enters into it, that’s a genetic thing. It can affect your future chances of conceiving. I had to be sterilised after mine, that’s what they did in those days.’

In fact, as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists makes clear, ‘there are no proven associations between induced abortion and subsequent ectopic pregnancy, placenta praevia or infertility.’

We were glad to see local MP Julian Huppert support the group’s call to action. He said:

'It is crucial that all organisations offering information or advice in relation to unplanned pregnancy choices follow evidence-based guidance from a professional medical organisation. Women who seek help in this matter have a very serious decision to make and they cannot make that decision without medically accurate information. And organisations providing that information have a duty to make it crystal clear if they have a particular religious or anti-abortion stance.'

EFC has been campaigning for evidence-based, impartial support with pregnancy decision making for years and we have found that the majority of  ‘crisis pregnancy centres’ are run by organisations which are either transparently anti-abortion, or which, when you dig deeper, have associations with anti-abortion groups. In practice, a number of these centres are giving false, biased and stigmatising information about abortion to the people who visit them.

We call on local commissioning groups and local authorities to investigate pregnancy advice centres, and to clamp down on groups which are in breach of ethical standards in health provision and counselling and may also be guilty of false advertising. We also ask that education, youth and health workers inform themselves about these centres and do not signpost anyone to them should they have concerns.

The EFC pregnancy decision making Best Practice Toolkit offers guidance for investigating independent advice centres in your area.

Banner from the Feminist Action Cambridge demo on 15th December 2012.

Saturday 17 November 2012

A very sinister hijacking of Savita Halappanavar's death

A guest blog from the unstoppable Farzana: dedicated to the memory of Savita Halappanavar
“Bigotry tries to keep truth safe in its hands with a grip that kills it” Rabindranath Tagore, (1861 – 1941)

When I read Praveen’s (Savita’s widower) account of the agony his wife was in and the reaction of the consultant when Savita asked for the pregnancy to be induced (as the fetus was unviable) I was angry and humiliated for the Halappanavars who were told “This is a Catholic country.”  A few tweeters noted the inherent racism within that response, @sunny_hundal for one, @SamAmbreen for two - and a whole host of others. However, when this was pointed out during the night and the next day, a very typical response came from certain people who refused to acknowledge that that statement could be perceived as being racist. We were accused of being “over-sensitive”, “reading too much into it” etc...

What I would say to those people is this: imagine you were Savita and Praveen. Savita was in agony by the time her cervix had dilated and both she and her husband were undoubtedly traumatised and upset that they were to lose their first child, thousands of miles away from home, away from the comfort of the familiar. Now imagine, as foreign, non-Irish, non-Catholic people that the medical intervention you have requested in good faith is effectively rejected and done so in a sneering condescending manner. Imagine if your daily lived reality is one of “being the other”.

If you haven’t experienced racism in its obnoxious and subtle forms then one could see how you might not relate to how those of us similar to the Halappanavars would legitimately react. Being generous, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. Being miserly; I would say this: if you do not know what it is like to be of non-white skin colour, if you do not know what it is like to be judged for worshipping God in a different form, if you don’t have the same ethno-linguistic or cultural norms or values as the majority, if you are made to feel as if your non-white skin colour, your different form of worshipping God, your different ethno-linguistic-cultural norms are INFERIOR; then you do not know what it was like for Savita and Praveen at that time. You get me bredrens?

Predictably, a small but highly vocal racist group of anti-choice odds and sods have attempted to hijack the death of Savita and gone to town with some very strange views: views which fetishise the fetus but hate the brown mother.

One of the earliest tweets I spotted stated this: “The baby Savita (rip) lost was female. Many Indian people abort female babies. 2 facts”. In fact, according to her brother she had ‘always wanted to have a girl.’

My head sort of exploded about this time. I had a sinking feeling that the most uninformed anti-choicers would use the ethnicity of Savita as a tool in their disastrous counter campaign against a very angry and grief-stricken pro-choice movement.

Claims about Indians and sex-selective abortions are a cheap way to attack Savita’s Indian heritage, MY heritage, as one which is violently disproportionate in favour of men. However, if you consider that India (1966 & 1980), Sri Lanka (1960* the first female head of a modern post-colonial state), Pakistan (1988 and 1993), and Bangladesh - the “Battling Begums”  (1991, 2001, 1996, 2009) all have had female heads of state far earlier than any western country did (including the UK with Thatcher in 1979 and Mary Robinson in Ireland in 1990), you have to wonder – for countries which are portrayed as being so patriarchal and male dominated – we didn’t too badly did we bredrens? The most disturbing commentary on Savita’s death however has come from a well known active hardline anti-choice racist/White Nationalist. a link to his view that ‘Indian people are a bit slow and backward' is here.

First of all his views hardly make any logical sense. To claim that Indians are “slow and backward” when India is 10th largest economy in the world, 3rd for purchasing power, exports worth $299.4 billion. He then goes on to argue if Indians don’t like the way things are done in Ireland, then they “should go back to their smelly overpopulated country.” Overpopulated? Hang on – in the same diatribe, he argues that there is “no justification to allow the murdering of unborn babies.” I would also have to say, bredren, plenty of Irish people leave Ireland too to look for jobs abroad...and to get away from racist bumbaholes like you.

Another tweeter – a silly little boy who clearly doesn’t get out much, doesn’t read a quality newspaper or listen to the news – claimed that:  “That Muslim girl died, she was refused an abortion, am not racist but I f-ing hate smelly rag heads.” After I had picked myself up off the floor laughing hard at his “That Muslim girl,” (Savita was HINDU), I again felt the unease that racists, stupids and anti-choicers make for an explosive amount of stupidly uninformed bigoted views. That Savita was Indian, means that her ethnicity WILL be a factor in their frothy mouthed bigotry. I actually tweeted back “you do realise the woman who you implied as being a smelly rag head was in fact Hindu and not Muslim? PS I'm a smelly rag head.” I await his response, if any.

Savita’s death was horrible enough. Praveen, her husband, will arrive back in Ireland to fight for justice for his wife. A fitting legacy to Savita’s memory would be if Ireland would just reconsider their current legislation and make the necessary changes to ensure that no woman: whether white, brown, Catholic or non-Catholic is ever told “This is a Catholic country” as justification to deny a life- saving medical intervention.

Pro-choice is more pro-life than the anti-choicers would have you believe. Reclaim the term, we OWN it.

Updated: For London based people, there will be a protest outside the Irish embassy on Saturday 17th November 4pm onwards, for further details:

Thursday 15 November 2012

Protest the death of Savita Halappanavar


Protest the death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland


To: Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Irish Prime Minister)
cc: Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore (Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs)


Copy also to the Irish Embassy in your country. Find contact details here

Re: Death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway

Honourable Taoiseach,

We are writing to you to express our concern about the recent death of Savita Halappanavar, who was repeatedly denied an abortion in Galway. This tragic case demonstrates once again that the prohibition of abortion in Ireland is not just undermining the autonomy of the women across the country, it is leading to unacceptable suffering and even death.

Savita Halappanavar made repeated requests for an abortion after presenting at University Hospital Galway on 21 October while miscarrying during the 17th week of her pregnancy. Her requests were refused, and she died one week later after several days in agonising pain and distress.

The situation of Savita Halappanavar provides the clearest possible evidence that laws that permit abortion only to save the life of a woman, such as the Irish law, are clinically unworkable and ethically unacceptable. There are numerous clinical situations in which a serious risk posed to a pregnant woman's health may become a risk to her life, and delaying emergency action only increases that risk. There is only one way to know if a woman's life is at risk: wait until she has died. Medical practitioners must be empowered by law to intervene on the grounds of risk to life and health, rather than wait for a situation to deteriorate.

You will be aware that the European Court of Human Rights, as well as a number of United Nations human rights bodies, have called upon the Irish government to bring its abortion law in line with international human rights standards. Had these calls been heeded before now, the death of Savita Halappanavar would have been prevented.

With the death of Savita Halappanavar, Ireland joins the ranks of countries worldwide where abortion is denied to women and leads to their deaths.

We call on your government to take urgent and decisive steps to reform the legislation that led to the death of Savita Halappanavar. Until the Irish legal system is reformed the lives, health and autonomy of women across Ireland are in jeopardy.

Yours faithfully,


Friday 2 November 2012

Happy birthday to us!

Dust off the party poppers, EFC is 20 years old this year!

We were founded back in 1992 as a result of a lack of good quality educational resources on pregnancy and abortion. Teachers were finding that despite the topic of abortion being on many syllabi, there was very little support in terms of teaching it in a sensible and balanced way. Sure, the old anti-choice stalwarts SPUC and Life had been around for a good 20 years, but their offerings tended to be (and still are) partially inaccurate, biased and often insensitive to young people's experiences of pregnancy. A group of sexual health professionals therefore got together to form 'Education For Choice' and ensure that young people could learn the facts about abortion.

Over the past 20 years we're stayed true to our mission - to provide young people with reliable information about pregnancy options. We've done this directly, by providing workshops in schools, colleges and youth centres, but also by producing resources and training up professionals who work with young people. We reckon we’ve reached around 1.8 million young people through this work. Not bad for a tiny project with limited resources eh?

Our 20 years of experience means that we are experts on young people and abortion and are often contacted by the press to provide information and comment. Recent years have seen us work to expose rogue crisis pregnancy centres offering inaccurate information, and highlight the problem of anti-choice speakers giving misinformation to young people in schools. No one else in the UK is doing this vital and unique work.

We’re proud of what we’ve achieved, but while sex education remains a patchy subject and anti-abortion groups continue to mislead young people about their health and wellbeing we think it’s important that EFC continues to shout loud for young people’s right to good education.

We’re asking you to support our work by giving us £20 for our 20 years. Or a monthly donation – even a small amount will make a real difference. To spice things up we’ll be posting some classic tunes from 1992 to now, culminating in our birthday extravaganza in London on 22nd November. We’d love to see you there.

If you believe young people deserve to be give the facts about pregnancy and abortion, then please give what you can to support EFC’s work.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Wonder Women and Other Women

As part of the Telegraph’s new ‘Wonder Women’ collective Cathy Newman has written a piece entitled ‘How the agony of my abortion made me see both sides’. In the article Newman shares her own experience of having ended a wanted pregnancy due to a diagnosis of severe fetal abnormality. She notes that she was lucky to find out about this abnormality relatively early, at 13 weeks, as many women would be having this scan at 20 weeks. She goes on to describe the difficulty of having to wait another week to access the procedure after having had this news:

‘Most women whose babies suffer from this condition wouldn't find out until the 20 week scan, if then. I was immediately offered an abortion, but quite apart from the emotional turmoil, it was extremely difficult to arrange. I was told I'd have to wait a fortnight, but eventually managed to fix the operation in a week - a week which seemed like a year as I dealt with the trauma of what was happening to me.’

We appreciate Newman sharing her personal experience, and acknowledging that there are complex situations and real people behind later term abortion, and that unavoidable delays can affect access and emotional wellbeing. However, there are a few points in the rest of the article we’d like to have seen more clarity on, this being such an important and emotive subject.

Firstly, the conclusions reached about later abortion are not entirely accurate. Newman claims that ‘if the law changes, women in similar situations might not have the choice I did’. The article’s ‘hook’ seems to be that Maria Miller, new Minister for Women and Equalities, voted in 2008 to reduce the abortion time limit to 20 weeks. In fact, if this part of the law changed it would presumably not affect somebody in a similar situation to Newman – that is somebody who had had a diagnosis of fetal abnormality, as this is a ground under which abortion can be accessed after the 24 week limit.

The more troubling statement which has been left unexplored, with no reference to scientific evidence, is that made by Miller herself regarding her reasons for supporting a reduced time limit. She claims to be:

‘driven by that very practical impact that late term abortion has on women...What we are trying to do here is not to put obstacles in people's way but to reflect the way medical science has moved on.’

There are two issues here. What is the ‘very practical impact’ that late term abortion has on women? Has this been measured against the ‘very practical impact’ which might arise from being forced to continue an unwanted or non-viable pregnancy to term? Secondly, Miller claims to be reflecting ‘the way medical science has moved on’. When Miller was voting on the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act she would have heard that medical and scientific consensus remained in favour of maintaining a 24 week limit due to a lack of significant changes to viability before this point:

‘Having considered the evidence set out above, we reach the conclusion, shared by the RCOG and the BMA, that while survival rates at 24 weeks and over have improved they have not done so below that gestational point. Put another way, we have seen no good evidence to suggest that foetal viability has improved significantly since the abortion time limit was last set, and seen some good evidence to suggest that it has not.’

Miller’s insistence that it is ‘common sense’ which drives her desire to change the time limit should surely be questioned and backed up by relevant evidence. Rather Newman, (ironically Channel 4’s ‘factchecker’) allows this, as well as talk of ‘trauma’ to pass by, unexamined.

We know that only a tiny minority of women are accessing abortion after 20 weeks (1.5% in 2011) and as Newman acknowledges, this may be due to fetal health or delays to access (or an array of other issues, see this report from Marie Stopes for background on the reasons some women have later abortions). However, the article seems to support Newman’s own reasons for ending a pregnancy, but is shaky on the necessity of later abortion for ‘other women’. For example, women whose local hospital may not be 'one of the world's best in the field’. The quotes from Nadine Dorries in the piece are very telling – she claims that ‘prochoicers’ who support the current time limit are ‘ignoring the number of women who are traumatised and vulnerable during the abortion process’. Clearly, there are Wonder Women who can make logical, justifiable decisions about their pregnancy and there are Other Women who are vulnerable, whose choices need to be limited and who need to be ‘protected’ by politicians like Miller and Dorries.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Sarah Catt: when we've stopped pointing the finger let's ask ourselves how much we care

Sarah Catt faces an eight year jail sentence after taking abortion medication purchased over the internet to end her pregnancy at 39 weeks. I don’t know if she had any idea that she was putting her life and her liberty at risk when she did this. There is speculation as to both her motivation and her mental state, but the only fact of the matter is that for some reason the idea of giving birth to a living baby, which she almost certainly would have done within just a couple of weeks, was intolerable to her.

Speculation about whether she is a monster or just desperately ill and unhappy will, no doubt, be rife. Arguments will rage to and fro about whether she should have received such a long sentence. Others will ask whether the current time limit for abortion is right, whether there should be time limits at all or whether our focus should be on doing everything we can to make abortion as accessible as possible, as early as possible. Some people will say that this case demonstrates an argument for taking abortion out of the sphere of criminal law altogether, others that this proves we need legal limits on abortion provision because we simply cannot trust women not to go running around choosing late term abortions.

For me this case is so unusual that I’m not sure if it can helpfully inform debates about abortion law. They say that hard cases make bad law and this is probably a case in point.

If we can draw any lessons from this it might be about the support that we can provide to those women who consistently struggle to control their fertility, to choose and use an appropriate contraceptive method, and to manage relationships. There are many reasons why women who feel negative or at least ambivalent towards pregnancy still get pregnant repeatedly including complex personal circumstances. Easy as it is to blame individual women for making bad decisions (we rarely blame their partners) we also have to ask ourselves whether sometimes repeat unintended pregnancies do highlight a shortfall in services. Did Sarah ever seek or was she ever offered any support to think about her fertility, to clarify her own feelings about pregnancy and parenthood and to make informed choices about future relationships and contraceptive use?

Did she have the emotional and practical support she needed after she placed a child for adoption? Or did that process contribute to her belief that it was better to go through the potential pain and danger of labouring alone to have a stillbirth, than to give birth safely and retain the option of placing the baby for adoption? When she was turned down for abortion after 24 weeks did anyone offer her the opportunity to think about ‘what next?’ Did anyone offer to help her talk to her husband and think through the possible consequences (good and bad) of having this conversation in terms of her safety, their relationship and the future of their family?

When a healthy woman with a healthy pregnancy seeks abortion after the legal time limit, it is likely that her circumstances and her feelings about the pregnancy are pretty desperate. For good or ill, a woman in this situation cannot have an abortion after 23 weeks and 6 days. What do we offer these women to address the circumstances they find themselves in, in which continuing the pregnancy is intolerable? Are they made aware of the dangers both medical and legal of trying to induce an abortion themselves? Is there anything we can offer to make the next 16 weeks of pregnancy tolerable, safe and manageable for them...let alone the next 20 years of parenthood?

I don’t know what kind of support is available to the handful of desperate women who are turned away from abortion because they’re just too late. Later abortion is a divisive issue, but whatever anyone feels about it, we must all feel some duty of care towards women who want one, but can’t have one.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

"Shocked to the core": Parents' and Carers' Views on the Teaching of SRE in Catholic Schools

This guest blog has been sent to us by Georgie, one of our young volunteers, who is currently undertaking academic research into Catholic parents’ reactions to their children’s sex education.

The Catholic Church promotes sexual activity only within marriage, with the purpose of procreation. Therefore, Catholicism does not endorse lesbian, gay or bisexual sexual identities, abortion or the use of contraception. In principle it is at the discretion of a parent whether their child receives SRE at school due to their right to withdraw. So, do parent/carers want their children to be taught about SRE in school? If so, do they want it to be taught from the Catholic point of view or an unbiased perspective?

I decided to investigate this further for my Masters dissertation by conducting a small number of in depth interviews with the parents and carers of young people who attended Catholic schools. The SPUC  ‘Safe at School’ campaign which states; ‘parents are worried that contraception and abortion services are being promoted in secondary schools' was challenged by the findings from my research.

Overall, I found that these parents disagreed with the current teaching of SRE in Catholic schools and felt that all children have a right to unbiased and fact-based information in SRE. Unsurprisingly, the topic of abortion arose on a number of occasions during each interview. It seemed parents kept returning to this subject to explain or evidence their opinions/experiences.

One interviewee felt that only parents should teach certain topics within SRE because of an experience she had where her daughter was shown a ‘graphic’ anti-abortion video* at her Catholic secondary  school;

I just remember one of my daughters coming home and breaking their heart and saying…“I can’t believe what’s been shown to me”…they showed my daughters a video about abortion that shocked them to the core but I wasn’t aware they were going to do that. (Theresa )

A second parent agreed:

I think it should be everybody’s own choice, it is up to the individuals, not up to pro-life groups to say no… I think it’s unfair, obviously I know you send them to a religious school and that is part of the religion but I still think it’s your choice. Because you’re a Catholic you know it’ll be pro-life, you know abortion is wrong… but there are extenuating circumstances which they won’t even look at …one is rape and… you do have a choice, it is your body. (Linda)
Another parent agreed that SRE should provide impartial information and suggested a joint effort by all those involved in teaching SRE that would be beneficial for young people;

I believe that children are entitled to the full facts when it comes to sex education including contraception and abortion. If they are guided by their parents, parish and school in a caring way to lead their life according to a Christian ethos then these adults should have confidence that their wonderful children will be capable of making the right moral choices when the time comes. (Helen)

I found parents of children attending Catholic schools to be no different to other parents; they feel their children should be entitled to unbiased information and the ‘full facts' about abortion and sex and relationships in general. These parents' opinions echo those of young peoples'; reinforcing the demand for compulsory SRE in state schools, including Catholic schools. Consequently, teaching materials used in SRE would need to be the same in Catholic and non-faith schools. This would result in the graphic, biased and (often) misinformed materials currently being used in some Catholic schools being abandoned and no more young people being adversely "shocked to the core."
*I later found out that the film shown was 'The Silent Scream'.

Friday 24 August 2012

Todd Akin's not the only one claiming that pregnancy as a result of rape is rare

Earlier this week Republican politician Todd Akin came under fire for claiming that pregnancy occurring as a result of rape is ‘really rare’. In arguing for a ban on abortion without exceptions for pregnancies conceived through rape he stated the following:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare... If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”

Akin’s claims have rightly been attacked by various pro-choice groups and media outlets in the States for having no basis in scientific fact. Indeed, research from the Journal of American Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency, something to which many women themselves can attest. So huge was the outcry that even the President released a statement condemning the claim that “legitimate rape” is unlikely to end in pregnancy. President Obama used Akin’s disingenuous comments as an example of why "we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, the majority of whom are men, making healthcare decisions on behalf of women."
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking isn’t limited to one rogue politician in the States spouting misinformation in order to push a ban on abortion. The idea that it is impossible or very unlikely for pregnancy to occur as a result of rape has been spread by a number of anti-abortion groups, including those based in the UK. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) state the following in their ‘Exploring Abortion’ school resource:

“Pregnancy as a result of rape is extremely rare. A woman is only fertile for 3-7 days during her cycle and the extreme physical and psychological trauma of being raped makes it difficult for fertilisation or implantation to occur.”

Earlier this year, SPUC were criticised for giving young people misleading information about pregnancy and rape but we are yet to see the same public outcry Todd Akin’s comments have attracted in the States.

Young people here and abroad deserve to hear factual information about pregnancy and abortion, and we should certainly be concerned when damaging myths like this are allowed into our classrooms. EFC are currently working on a report into abortion education in the UK which will pull together the types of misinformation being given to young people in schools. If you have information you'd like to feed into the project please do contact us and keep an eye out for the launch of the report this autumn.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Taking abortion out of the criminal law - meeting

International Day of Action for Decriminalisation of Abortion

Taking abortion out
of the criminal law

Voice for Choice  ̶  Public Meeting

1st October 2012
6.45pm – 9.00pm

Body & Soul
99 Rosebery Avenue
London EC1R 4RE

Free admission: book a place at Eventbrite
              Demo outside Bpas, London, 2012.
              ©Laura Lewis Photography:

You are invited to a public meeting to celebrate the International Day of Action for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, as part of events all over the world. The meeting will explore the situation in the UK: the vulnerability of doctors to prosecution and threats to women’s access to abortion under the 1967 Abortion Act, the situation in Northern Ireland and in other countries.

Sarah Veale, Equality and Employment Rights, Trades Union Congress, London
to be confirmed

Lisa Hallgarten, Education For Choice, London
How the criminal law problematises abortion for women and health professionals

Goretti Horgan, Alliance for Choice, Northern Ireland
The Twilight Zone: abortion in Northern Ireland

Sally Sheldon, Kent Law School, Kent University, Canterbury
Options for reforming the law: models that don’t rely on criminalisation

Susan Davies, Women on Web, Amsterdam
Supporting access to safe medical abortion through the internet for women in legally restricted settings

Marge Berer, Reproductive Health Matters, London
History of the International Day of Action, what’s happening in other countries and the new International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion

Contributions from the floor and discussion

Public meetings and street actions also planned in London, Belfast, Derry and Dublin. Details to follow.
Voice for Choice is the UK coalition to defend and extend women’s choice on abortion

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Archers and the ante-natal testing story

Fans of the Archers (a long-running radio drama/soap on BBC R4) may be following with interest the storyline of Vicky’s pregnancy. Vicky is a middle-aged woman married to Mike, grandfather of two. Her pregnancy was unplanned and came as quite a shock, though a happy shock as far as Vicky is concerned. Although we often associate unplanned pregnancy with teenagers, the reality is that women of all ages experience unintended pregnancy.* 

In addition to the shock of the pregnancy, Vicky and her partner, Mike, have also had to deal with the news that initial screening tests have found her at higher than normal risk of carrying a fetus with Down's Syndrome . Vicky and Mike find themselves having to make sense of alot of medical information and facing decisions they are completely unprepared for.

They are offered an amniocentesis test to give them a definitive answer about whether or not they will have a baby with Down’s Syndrome, but they have to decide whether the risk of miscarriage associated with the test (up to 1%) is worth taking. After talking to the midwife they realise that if the test is positive for Down’s Syndrome they will have another decision to make – whether or not to continue with the pregnancy. 

It’s great when TV and radio dramas take up interesting topics – an opportunity to inform the public and stimulate discussion about contemporary real life issues. It’s really good when broadcasters take responsibility for giving accurate information, and think carefully about the impact of the programme on people who’ve had experience of these issues or dilemmas. Too often storylines are simplistic, hysterical, insensitive or inaccurate and broadcasters try to compensate for this by putting up a ‘helpline’ number at the end for anyone ‘affected’ by the topic (often just a recorded message).

So far I think the BBC is doing a pretty good job with the Archers. They have integrated some accurate information into the story line and tried to represent the range of viewpoints and emotions associated with this situation.  I’ll be listening with interest to see if they can keep it up as the story unfurls.

I wonder if the BBC got in touch with Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC)  to advise on the script. They are the UK experts in informing and supporting women, their partners and families when they face a diagnosis of fetal anomaly. For anyone who is in this situation now ARC is there to help you understand the information you have been given, explore your feelings around the pregnancy and support you in whatever decision you think is the right one for you. 

For anyone who is moved by this story line, relieved they have never had to face this painful situation or glad that there is an organisation out there to help, why not consider a donation to ARC.  

And finally, yes, it’s true...I do listen to the Archers *buries head in shame and realises she's turning into her mum*

*While huge investment has been made over recent years in reducing teenage pregnancy and addressing high levels of Chlamydia and other STIs amongst teenagers, the fpa recently tried to balance this out with a campaign to provide more information about contraception to older people in recognition that they have often missed out on essential sexual health messages and services and may not know that they are still at risk of pregnancy . Not only does pregnancy often come as a shock to older women, they often haven't recognised that they are pregnant until some weeks into pregnancy, mistaking their missing periods for the onset of the menopause. This may be one reason why older women are over-represented in the statistics for abortions that take place in the second trimester of pregnancy.

Tuesday 31 July 2012

“My R.E. teacher taught about the 'evils' of aborting a fetus”

As part of our education advocacy project we recently launched an online survey asking young people to tell us about their experiences of abortion education at school. We received hundreds of responses – so thank you to all those who completed the survey or passed it on. Although a minority reported positive experiences, having attended lessons which they felt were ‘neutral’ and gave them good information, our concerns about misinformation and bias in this area were confirmed by a greater part of the responses received.

Firstly, just under 30% of those aged 20 and under said that they’d learnt nothing about abortion at school. Many of those who had not learnt about abortion felt that this was a wasted opportunity:

It was certainly referenced, but I'm not sure it was properly 'taught'. As it was merely a glancing reference normally, it didn't have much impact. Looking back, however, I'm disappointed by how glaring this absence was, especially as I went to an all-girls' school which didn't exactly have the lowest teen pregnancy rate. 19, London

It was a lost opportunity for myths and stigma to be challenged.
18, Leicester

Of those who did receive abortion education, the majority had learnt about the topic as part of Religious Education (R.E). Although sometimes this meant a useful exploration of religious perspectives on abortion, a number of respondents reported negative experiences. Some were concerned that they had missed out on important factual and practical information about contraception, abortion access and local sexual health services:

I think there was too much scaremongering involved and not enough science. I think it should have been taught during a biology lesson rather than religious ed. 19, North Yorkshire

(It made me feel) uncomfortable, as if I wouldn't be able to make the decision I would want (they leant towards adoption/keeping at a young age) I also felt it was inappropriate in a town with a high teenage pregnancy rate, instead of leaning towards how to protect yourself. Choosing an organisation who would have given advice on safe sex and impartial options (maybe NHS/Connexions services) would have been better. 19, Hampshire

I came away thinking that if the condom/pill failed then it was a divine sign of things which are meant to be.
19, Kent

Others were subjected to highly judgemental and biased accounts of abortion, based on the teacher/speaker’s own beliefs:

My R.E. teacher taught about the 'evils' of aborting a foetus that had mental or physical impairments. The women who came in showed us pictures and videos of late stage abortions...All the experiences seemed designed to put students off abortion or make those who had already had an abortion feel guilty or like murderers. It was never presented as a choice that women sometimes choose, or something that happens every day. 20, Surrey

(I was taught that abortion) was immoral, murder etc, every child has the right to life sort of thing and that the mother would go straight to hell for it...we had no facts or balanced arguments. 17, Newcastle

They said god said it was wrong and that it murdered babies and psychologically damaged women. 20, Northern Ireland

Perhaps most worryingly, some respondents reported having been ‘humiliated’ or ‘singled out’ for their own personal views or experiences of abortion:

They said (abortion) was wrong, and that it was much better to bring the pregnancy to term...No details were ever given of the procedure and the child was always spoken of being murdered and murder was wrong. My personal views, I was told they were wrong because I agree with abortion but everyone who agreed with the teacher was not humiliated in front of the class... (I felt) humiliated and that my life and opinions were not wanted and that I wasn't regarded with respect because I allow everyone to have a choice. 16, County Antrim

He (RE teacher) gave us a very basic explanation then called on a girl who had had an abortion and asked for her opinion on the matter. No one else was encouraged to discuss what they thought and I left the lesson feeling as though abortion was something to be ashamed of...(I felt) very under- informed and angry on behalf of my friend who was singled out. 14, Wales

Thankfully, not all respondents had had such a negative experience. Some praised the abortion education they had received and felt that it had been a worthwhile learning experience:

Lesson was from a priest, but from an honest, unbiased perspective. 18, Oxfordshire

I actually felt well-informed. My teacher was not judgmental or nasty, thinking back I'm pretty sure she was pro-choice, but she gave both sides of the argument and allowed us to form our own decisions. 20, Northampton

Unfortunately the majority of responses were from those who received no education about abortion, or had had inaccurate, misleading or distressing lessons at school. There was also a general sense that with the majority of these lessons taking place in R.E, students were at risk of missing important factual information about the realities of abortion.

To read more about why we think it’s important to teach about abortion and our best practice guidelines for doing so have a look at the EFC Abortion Education Toolkit. And please contact if you have further information on the way abortion is taught in your area.

Friday 27 July 2012

Volunteer opportunity for 16-25 year olds

Are you 16-25? Looking for a fun way to volunteer this summer? Interested in sexual and reproductive health? Well then, come on down, because we’ve got an opportunity just for you!

We’d like to start an EFC Tumblr page where young people create the content. This will mean re-blogging interesting posts you see on other sexual health sites but also writing short blogs, taking pictures or even creating videos for others to view and share.

There are two ways to get involved:
•    If you’re in London and can spare some time between now and September you can apply to be a core volunteer. This means we’ll give you some training on sexual and reproductive health issues as well as social media. You will be one of the key volunteers involved in setting up the Tumblr and deciding what we post on it.

•    If you’re outside of London or don’t have much time to spare you can be an online volunteer. This means we’ll ask you to email us with interesting things you’ve seen online, and you’ll be encouraged to create your own blogs on topics which interest you relating to sexual health, gender and sexuality and reproductive rights. This is a chance to be really creative, and we’ll send you suggestions and guidelines on what we’re after.

All volunteers will be given the resources and support and they need to take part. Core volunteers will have travel and food expenses covered. We can also award Amazon vouchers to those who remain involved with the project.

If you’re interested in getting involved please email for an application form and let us know if you'd like to be a core or online volunteer.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Lovewise in schools

Today, The Huffington Post’s lead article concerns the group Lovewise, a Christian organisation which delivers presentations on puberty, sex, relationships and abortion to young people in schools, colleges and churches. We are quoted in the article expressing concern that a group which gives misinformation on contraception and abortion, and presents information which may stigmatise same-sex relationships and single parent families, is invited into schools to speak to young people.

Lovewise, alongside other groups promoting an abstinence-only, anti-abortion position formed the new, Michael Gove approved, ‘SRE Council’ last year. We noted then our concerns about the misinformation which was being given on Lovewise’s website in their sample slides. Since then we have gathered more information on the group and found that they speak at a number of schools across the country – the names of the schools visited are publicly available via their annual accounts.

To be clear. Our concern is not that Lovewise are presenting a Christian perspective on abortion. Nor that they oppose legal abortion. We have written before about the difference between facts and values. What we object to is the use of misleading, biased and at times, outright false information, which is unsupported by scientific evidence. For example, slides from Lovewise’s abortion presentation (saved from the site on 13th July but mysteriously now no longer viewable) claim that abortion leads to infertility, doubles the risk of breast cancer and increases the risk of committing suicide seven-fold. These claims simply do not reflect scientific consensus on abortion.

Besides the disregard for truly evidence-based information, there is also the effect such presentations might have on children’s wellbeing. How will a young woman who has experienced pregnancy feel when she is told ‘there are always bad consequences’ to abortion? How might a group which claims ‘homosexual activity is damaging to the mind, body and spirit’ affect the feelings of a young person who is LGBT? And how might young people’s access to safe, confidential sexual health advice be affected by listening to an organisation which teaches that contraception is ‘something that is wrong and threatens health?’

Lovewise are by no means the only group to be proffering such myths but we are glad to see that the public’s attention is being drawn to the regular practice of abortion misinformation being spread in schools. Now, let’s see if we can continue to push for evidence-based, impartial materials to be used in every school teaching about an issue as important as abortion.

Sample slides from Lovewise's 'Abortion Version 2' presentation.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Life-saving vaccine denied to girls

When the UK Government first decided to provide the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to all girls it was met with opposition from those who claimed that it would 'fuel promiscuity'. Of course this is nonsense and everyone who works in sexual health with young people said so at the time. 

Either the vaccinations would be given with no explanation to the girls of the fact that HPV is a sexually transmitted infection in which case most girls would make no connection – either positive or negative – between the vaccine and sexual activity OR – obviously the option we favoured – the vaccination programme would be used as an opportunity to do some sexual health promotion. This work would:
  • celebrate the fact that this vaccine could prevent the majority of deaths from cervical cancer 
  • encourage girls to have regular pap or 'smear' tests once they are old enough 
  • talk about minimising risk factors for other cancers and the importance of regular breast checks for adult women and testicular checks for men
  • outline the risks for men of contracting HPV 
  • emphasise that the vaccination does not give them protection against any of the other panoply of STIs or, of course, against pregnancy. 
I haven’t found much information about what education or information is being provided alongside the vaccination, but this study suggests that offering and giving the vaccine has NOT changed young women’s sexual behaviour, turned them into wild nymphomaniacs; or caused them to throw their condoms on the bonfire and caution to the wind.

Today this article reports on schools that are not providing the vaccination because ‘their pupils follow strict Christian principles and do not have sex outside marriage’. So, first the vaccination was rejected because it would promote unsafe sexual behaviour and now it is rejected because pupils in some schools don’t need it as they will definitely not have sex outside of marriage.

Even if it was true that girls who commit to chastity in their early teens don’t ever end up having pre-marital or extra-marital sex (clue: it isn’t), it doesn’t take account of the fact that an abstinent girl can be raped, can be coerced into sex, or can marry a man who has previously had sex and is infected with HPV. 

Approximately 1,000 women in the UK die each year from cervical cancer. Clearly the schools that are rejecting the vaccination think that this is a risk worth taking....

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Fertility factsheet

These leaflets are designed for Education For Choice by the brilliant BISH. They include detailed explanations of female fertility and the menstrual cycle and the important information that even though you don't get pregnant every time, you still need to use contraception every time.

8 pp, 10x10cm, full colour (£15 for 50 leaflets inc p+p)

Please email your order or request for further information to efc[at]

More information about EFC resources about pregnancy decision-making and abortion for young people, parents and teachers.

More information about BISH resources about contraception, STIs, relationships, porn and loads more, for parents and teachers and BISH for young people.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Voice For Choice response to CQC abortion clinic inspections

CQC inspection of abortion clinics 

Voice For Choice is not surprised to hear the CQC’s investigation found the vast majority of abortion services were found to be completely compliant with law and regulations. Of the cases that were found to be in breach of regulations most of these cases were of errors on forms or incomplete form filling. There is no suggestion that there has been any shortfall in the care of women in these services.

The unprecedented investigation seems to be part of a general attempt to discredit abortion services by some elements of the media and some politicians. Over recent weeks these people have been quick, pre-emptively, to claim that the CQC investigations showed that women were being let down. The results of the investigation show no such thing.  In its statement on the inspections the CQC says ‘CQC did not find any evidence that any women had poor outcomes of care at any of these locations.’

In fact doctors who are doing everything possible to improve services for women – and have been incredibly successful in helping increase the proportion of abortions happening earlier in pregnancy, in line with recommendations from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Department of Health – have been subject to threats of legal action and suspension.

The CQC is right to provide clarification for doctors on what is and is not good practice. However, we deplore the effect this highly politicised and publicised investigation has had on those providing abortion. It has created a climate of fear amongst doctors and made some reorganise their services in ways that are actually creating delays for women and additional costs to the NHS.

One in three women in the UK will access abortion in their lifetime. A relatively small number of doctors provide this service. They absolutely must be supported to do their job which is a vital element of health service provision.

For more information on abortion law. Introductions to a seminar Myths and Misconceptions about UK AbortionLaw & summary of seminar

Please contact the Voice for Choice Spokesperson:
Lisa Hallgarten - lhallgarten[at]

Voice for Choice is a coalition of organisations committed to defending and extending women's choice on abortion. Members include: Abortion Rights, Antenatal Results and Choices, bpas, Brook, Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion, Education For Choice, Pro-choice Forum, Reproductive Health Matters.