Monday 28 May 2012

Standing up for young people's reproductive rights!

Today is the International Day of Action for Women's Health and to mark this, the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights issued this call to action:

“Full Recognition of Young People’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights! Recognise Reproductive Rights! Mobilise for Reproductive Justice!”

This means:
  • The right of young people to decide on all matters related to their sexuality
  • Access to sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion where legal, that respect confidentiality and do not discriminate
  • The right of youth to comprehensive sexuality education
  • Protection and promotion of young people’s right to control their sexuality free from violence, discrimination, and coercion 
Have a look at the full report here

We thought we'd let an actual young person tell you why they support this call to action. Here's what Jacob, friend of EFC and founder of S4SRE (Students for Sex and Relationships Education) had to say:

"These issues are important to me because a world of people more comfortable with their sexualities is a place I want to be. I think we need to invite young people to ask directly what sort of help they'd like from sex education, and to be more trusted as the major source of support we are for each other... these questions need not be some sort of public spectacle, like TV 'health entertainment' shows. Access to the services and resources that make sure sex can be safe and supportive is another factor that means youth sexuality stops being a punishable reality, and instead a healthier part of growing up."

Well said Jacob!
If you're a young person with an interest in these issues you might want to submit an essay or opinion piece to the Reproductive Health Matters journal which is currently looking for submissions on 'Young people, sex and relationships'.


Thursday 17 May 2012

Pro Choice Meeting

Thanks to Abortion Rights for organising last night’s Pro Choice Meeting in Parliament. Speakers included Diane Abbott MP, Emily Thornberry MP, the Guardian’s Zoe Williams and Richy Thompson from the British Humanist Association. You can catch up on some of the tweets using #prochoicemeet.

We were glad to attend such a positive meeting of pro-choice minds. The speakers were clearly well-informed about the current attacks on reproductive rights and spoke eloquently about how we should be coming together to defend abortion rights and make the pro-choice majority voice heard.

Diane Abbott began by identifying recent anti-abortion attacks not as random events but as an orchestrated ‘pushback by the political right and their allies in the media on a woman’s right to choose’. She saw increased ‘kerbside vigils’ and the so-called ‘witchhunt’ against abortion providers as evidence of an anti-choice movement which is borrowing tactics from the States. We were reminded to stay vigilant and ready to counter-act such actions.

Green party MP Natalie Bennett later spoke convincingly about the need for pro-choice activists in the UK to be ‘on the offensive, not the defensive’ stating that we need not just to defend our reproductive rights but to improve them. She reminded the audience of the Greens’ commitment to modernising abortion law and the importance of pro-actively arguing for progressive change to improve access to abortion services.

Kat Banyard of UK Feminista and journalist Zoe Williams were inspiring in their calls to action for anyone who supports the right to choose. Williams encouraged the audience to celebrate the rights we have, to be proud of what has already been achieved and to be optimistic about the future (comparing anti-choice protestors to the Westboro Baptist Church lot – an extreme minority!)

She also made the very important point that we need to stop seeing women seeking abortions as necessarily ‘vulnerable’. Earlier, in her speech, Labour MP Emily Thornberry trotted out the ill-advised ‘every abortion is a tragedy’ line. Quite rightly, Williams pointed out that in fact women (who engage in penetrative sex with men) are very likely to have at least one unplanned pregnancy in their lifetime. They may choose to continue these pregnancies and have children, or they may choose not to. They may have a planned pregnancy which they later terminate due to unforeseen circumstances (such as fetal abnormality or threats to their own health). Certainly, for some women an abortion will represent a traumatic time in their life, but for many others it is a rational, straight-forward decision which can provide relief.

In the interests of shifting the current discourse away from anti-choice rhetoric which paints women as naive and vulnerable ‘victims’ of abortion it’s crucial that we as pro-choice activists do not fall into using language which reinforces this idea. Recent research from the U.S shows that 87% of the women accessing abortion felt highly confident about their decision before having counselling. We need to make space for a range of different experiences. We need to trust women.

Two wonderful blogs on the language we use when talking about abortion, and particularly why calling for abortion to be 'safe, legal and rare' is problematic:
'I Love Abortion: Implying otherwise accomplishes nothing for women's rights' 
'What is so bad about thinking abortion should be rare?'

Tuesday 8 May 2012

It's women's lives stoopid

Many people will be whooping at delight that Melinda Gates is defying the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to promote and fund provision of contraception to women around the world. I’m whooping myself because we all know that women of all faiths and cultures want access to modern contraceptive methods and there is currently a massive global unmet need for them. It’s great that she has presented her view on this as one of social justice and interesting that she has linked this to the ethos of her convent education. We know that nuns are not always uncritical mouthpieces for the Vatican. In fact US Bishops have recently been ordered by the Vatican to whip their nuns into line for focussing on ‘radical feminist themes’. Historically, there is even evidence of nuns providing women with safe abortion. It’s a shame that Gates’ teachers never taught her this bit too.

Because the thing that is significantly missing from Gates’ pronouncements on contraception is a recognition that abortion too is a matter of women’s health and of social justice? While Gates hopes to generate $4bn to fund family planning services, no money is going to go towards provision of safe abortion or advocating for governments to reform restrictive abortion laws. For Gates, abortion is a step too far morally. Maybe she hopes that with good contraceptive coverage this problem will disappear, but we all know this is wishful thinking. Maybe she thinks that if she doesn’t mention abortion she can hold back the rage of the Catholic establishment –even win them round. Both of these are wishful thinking too. 

By ignoring abortion or presenting it as morally distinct from contraception - as she does - it reinforces a separation that serves women badly. It undermines the efforts of those who are trying to reform restrictive laws in their own countries, it marginalises those who do provide abortions, and maintains the invisibility of the ordinary women who have abortions each year (44 million in 2008).  It even risks limiting contraceptive options for women, as the anti-choice lobby draws our energy into debates about which drugs are abortifacient as opposed to contraceptive. We know that women everywhere have abortions - whether they are poor women in rural areas with no access to contraception, or middle class women in Europe whose contraception has failed. Catholic women are no more immune to the dilemma of an unintended pregnancy than any other women. Like all women when they know that they simply cannot continue a particular pregnancy, they will defy their religious leaders and the law of the land. They will risk excommunication, prison, and even their lives to get the abortion they have decided is the right thing for them. For some reason these women, their bodies and their lives are not a legitimate focus of social justice.

The same ear-covering ‘la la la la la I can’t hear you’ attitude is often on display in the maternal health field. Despite that fact that 13% of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortion – a higher proportion in some regions – many in the maternal health field don't address this cause. Despite many of the women dying from pregnancies they would rather have ended, some funders and policy makers in maternal health field avert their eyes. Even as doctors pick up the pieces of unsafe abortions around the world and families bury their dead, abortion remains, at best, peripheral to the maternal health agenda.

It is only when we join up all the dots, that we will really start to improve and save women's lives. That means advocating for, and funding, comprehensive and accurate sexual health education for all young people; access to the full range of modern contraceptive methods and sexual health services for all; safe, legal and accessible abortion as a necessary safety net when things go wrong; and comprehensive ante-natal, maternity, emergency obstetric and post-partum care. Separating these things out or picking and choosing which to address to accommodate the personal morality or preferences of law makers and funders, or hoping that doing so will minimise the opposition will mean that women continue to die wholly preventable deaths.

So please funders, don’t leave out abortion  - it’s women’s lives stoopid.