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.