Thursday, 5 September 2013

Persecution of 'Sex-Selective Abortion' Doctors Highlights Need for Abortion on Demand

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has ordered a review of a case in the CPS declined to prosecute two doctors who agreed to arrange sex-selective terminations during a sting operation by the Daily Telegraph. No abortions were actually carried out. The health secretary is apparently "concerned" at the decision not to prosecute.

But why should either doctor be prosecuted? Neither has broken the terms of the Abortion Act.

Don't believe me? Here is the current UK law governing abortion:

Abortion Act 1967 as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA) 1990
This Act applies in England, Scotland and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland
A legally induced abortion must be:
  • performed by a registered medical practitioner, performed, except in an emergency, in a National Health Service (NHS) hospital or in a place for the time being approved for the purpose of the act, and
  • certified by two registered medical practitioners as justified under one or more of the following grounds:
  1. the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman greater than if the pregnancy were terminated;
  2. the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman;
  3. the pregnancy has NOT exceeded its 24th week and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman;
  4. the pregnancy has NOT exceeded its 24th week and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of any existing child(ren) of the family of the pregnant woman;
  5. there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped;

As it is not possible for the doctors to officially approve an abortion on sex-selective grounds, they would have used grounds C shown in bold above when authorizing the abortion. Grounds C is used to authorize the majority of abortions carried out in the UK.

Here's the important thing to note: There is not a single pregnancy in the world to which grounds C could not be truthfully applied. Regardless of the reason for termination, the risk to physical health is always lower for abortion than it is for continued pregnancy.

But wait a minute... isn't sex-selective abortion illegal in the UK? Jeremy Hunt certainly thinks so. But sex-selective abortions (like all abortion) meet the conditions specified in the Abortion Act for legal termination.

So we have a situation where either (a) a government minister is calling for doctors who have not broken the law to be prosecuted, or (b) our laws regarding abortion are self-contradictory.

It is unreasonable to expect doctors to operate according to laws that explicitly allow the termination of any pregnancy on the basis that any termination reduces risk to health, while contradicting this statement by banning certain types of abortions.

This confusion - as well as the postcode lottery that exists because some doctors refuse to authorize abortions, even when grounds C could be truthfully applied - is why the UK abortion law needs to be updated to explicitly allow abortion on demand.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Woman Left to Die "Because Ireland is a Catholic Country"

Savita Halappanavar - the latest
victim of Ireland's barbaric
abortion law.

Last month, Savita Halappanavar was admitted to hospital with severe pain. Doctors confirmed that she was miscarrying her wanted 17-week-old fetus. After a week of agony, during which Savita repeatedly asked doctors to provide a life-saving abortion, she died.

The facts of the case are clear-cut. The fetus, being only 17 weeks old, had no hope of survival outside the womb, and Savita's miscarriage was irreversible. Her cervix was already dilated and the amniotic fluid was leaking out. Nothing could be done to save the baby's life, but a medical abortion would almost certainly have saved Savita's.

But when Savita begged doctors to perform the life-saving procedure, they refused. The fetus still had a heartbeat, which led doctors at Galway University Hospital to prioritize its doomed existence above Savita's life. Savita was left in agony for 3 days until the fetal heartbeat stopped. By then, it was too late. Savita developed septicemia as a result of being left with an open cervix, which invites infection into the body, for three days. She died on 28th October 2012.

"This is a Catholic country," the consultant told Savita as she begged him to save her life. "As long as there is a fetal heartbeat we can't do anything."

Irish law allows abortion in cases where the mother's life is at risk, but sets no guidelines about the situations where it can be used. This lack of clarity leads to doctors refusing to act for fear of prosecution. The result is that women are left to die.

Galway Pro-Choice are holding events in response to Savita Halappanava's death:

Saturday 17th November at 5pm in Eyre Square in Galway: candle-light vigil in honour of Savita.
Facebook event page
Thursday 22nd November: public meeting in the Harbour Hotel Galway to discussion the need for clear abortion legislation.
Facebook event page

Protests for a Change in Irish Abortion Law

Dublin Protest Tonight! There is a protest outside the Dail, Kildare Street, Dublin at 6pm tonight (Wed 14 November). Come along and demand the Irish government stops ignoring the need for abortion in Ireland.
Facebook event page

London Protest Tonight! UK people can attend a protest at the Irish Embassy in London tonight. Follow @FeministLondon for details. It will be held at 6pm, Grosvenor Place, SW1X 7HR.

Galway Protest Tonight! Protesters will gather in Eyre Square, Galway, tonight at 6.30pm.
Facebook event page

How to Get Abortion In Ireland

Until the Irish government legislates on abortion, Irish women who need abortions have three options.

1. Travel to the UK for abortion - financial and other support is available from Abortion Support Network
2. Get abortion drugs from Women On Web to perform their own early medical abortion (up to 9 weeks of pregnancy)
3. Women who need abortions up to 9 weeks for health reasons (permitted under Northern Irish Law) can visit the Marie Stopes Belfast Clinic.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Frustrated With 40 Days For Life? Practical Ways to Help

For abortion clinic staff across the UK and beyond, October has been an ongoing campaign of harassment by 40 Days for Life protesters. These anti-choice activists line the streets outside clinics, deliberately obstructing women who need abortion, counselling, or contraception from accessing these services. According to BPAS, their presence does nothing to bring down the abortion rate, but it does increase the number of late-term abortions as women delay the procedure, and causes a great deal of distress.

Anti-abortion protesters are currently targeting hospitals and clinics in London, Brighton, Manchester, Oxford, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Southampton (if you have seen them elsewhere, please comment below!)

How Can You Stop 40 Days For Life?

1. Collect any leaflets or other materials given out by 40 Days for Life, scan them, and send them to Education for Choice at

40 Days for Life have been known to give out pamphlets containing false information about the 'risks' of abortion. Education for Choice are collecting this propaganda with the aim of exposing 40 Days for Life's lies. Please also try to get the names of any counselling centres that 40 DFL protesters are referring women to - these centres are run by anti-choice groups and the 'counselling' they provide often uses emotional manipulation and false information to sway the woman's choice.

2. Donate to Education for Choice.

Please make a donation - no matter how small - to Education for Choice so that they can carry on with their vital work: providing evidence-based, impartial information about pregnancy and abortion. They work in schools and with health workers to make sure that everyone has the information they need to make reproductive choices for themselves. Donating £1 (or 50p, 20p, or whatever you can afford) for each day of 40 Days for Life means that these hateful protests are inadvertently raising money to support women to make their own decisions.

3. Contact Your MP

To get protests outside clinics shut down, we will need the help of politicians. Email your MP to let them know that women are being harassed when trying to access reproductive healthcare. Abortion Rights have a model letter that you can use. You can amend the text so that it relates to your local situation if you live in an area that is being targeted, but even if you don't it is important to get the message to government that action needs to be taken.

4. Complain to the Council

In many places, anti-abortion protests block pavements and cause offence to the public. Complain to the council to let them know that the presence of protesters outside your local clinic is a local nuisance. The council may be able to ban the protests or place limits on the number of people allowed to attend. You can complain to Camden Council about the Bedford Square protests in London by filling in this online form. In other areas, please visit your local council's website to find the department in charge of public streets, or contact your local ward councillor.

5. Join (or start) a local pro-choice organization

The need for a strong pro-choice presence in the UK is greater than ever. Consider joining or starting a pro-choice or feminist group in your area. If you need help, contact the 40 Days of Choice campaign at for advice and support.

6. Share this post with your social networks.

Please do all that you can to raise awareness of the pro-choice cause. Thank you.

Something constructive to add? Please comment below.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Northern Ireland Pro-Lifers Protest Against Saving Lives

Today is a landmark victory for women's healthcare in Northern Ireland. Marie Stopes International has opened a family planning clinic in Belfast, which along with contraceptive and sexual health services, will also offer abortion up to 9 weeks gestation. The clinic will be forced to operate within the Northern Ireland abortion law, which allows abortion only if the woman's life is in danger or if there is a strong chance the pregnancy would cause permanent and severe damage to her physical or mental health.

This man can live without abortion. A woman with a life-threatening pregnancy can't.
Of course, the clinic opening did not pass unnoticed by "pro-life" organizations, who lined the streets to wave placards of smiling babies and refuse to engage with the realities of pregnancy for Northern Ireland's most vulnerable women.

Never has the term "pro-life" been more ironic than when applied to people who are protesting against saving lives. Marie Stopes International is prevented by law from providing abortion on demand in Northern Ireland; the new Belfast sexual health clinic will provide abortions only to women whose lives and health would be at risk from pregnancy, such as those with pre-existing physical conditions or those who are suicidal as a result of pregnancy. Currently these women are forced to travel to the UK for treatment, a stressful experience that is almost certainly harmful when combined with their existing physical or mental health issues.

By protesting against the opening of a clinic that will not only save lives, but also work to reduce the number of abortions carried out on Northern Irish women by making contraception more accessible, Ireland's "pro-life" groups show that their true agenda has absolutely nothing to do with promoting life.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Oxford Feminist Network Tackles Anti-Choice Extremism

The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford is being targeted by 40 Days for Life. As well as spreading ignorance about the vital need for abortion in the UK, their presence has also had the positive effect of triggering local pro-choice activity led by the Oxford Feminist Network.

Oxford's Feminist Network's next pro-choice counter-demonstration will be held on Saturday 20 October, 9.30-11.30. Anyone who supports a woman's right to access medical advice and care without harassment is welcome to come along. Sign up on the Facebook Event Page to be kept up to date with details.

Please also write to Andrew Smith (MP for Oxford East) to express your concern about anti-abortion extremists targeting Oxford's main hospital. 40 Days for Life might look harmless, but their delight at seeing sexual health clinics closed down due to their activities shows their contempt for women's health. Elsewhere in the UK, 40DFL have been reported spreading false information, physically blocking the entrance to medical facilities, and harassing women. It is vital to clamp down on clinic protests now before UK abortion clinics and hospitals become unsafe places for patients and staff.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Talking to 40 Days for Life Oxford

40 Days For Life Oxford cheerfully dismiss the necessity of abortion care for women.
Tony Cash is on the right. The woman on the left is Eveline Finch from Bladon. Can you identify the other protesters?
Source: 40 Days for Life Oxford Facebook Group

Yesterday I spoke to the 40 Days for Life protesters in Oxford. They were quite a small bunch - two older men and two woman with three small kids and a baby.

In many ways, Oxford gets off lightly compared to other UK cities. Our BPAS clinic is part of the city's main hospital. The 40 Days crowd stand outside the main road entrance to the hospital, out of sight of the clinic. They also seemed quite well-behaved, not approaching anyone or handing out any anti-choice propaganda. They did have business cards for the LIFE counselling service, but I had to ask to see them; they weren't being shoved in people's faces.

In fact, what struck me about this group was how harmless they seemed. I spoke to Oxford 40DFL coordinator Anthony (Tony) Cash, who embodies the image of 'harmless old man'. As my previous attempts to communicate with anti-choicers have turned into unproductive public shouting matches, I decided not to challenge this group's position and politely asked what they were doing and what they hope to achieve.

Tony Cash lit up with delight when telling me that abortion clinics across the US are closing as a result of 40 Days for Life's actions. This is when I started to realize just how dangerous these seemingly innocuous people are - not because they are evil or because they hate women, but because they are hopelessly naive about the consequences of their actions.

What does Tony Cash think will happen to women when all the clinics have closed down? He probably imagines them going on to have healthy babies and living happily ever after. Some might. But real life isn't always that rosy. What will happen to the cancer patient whose pregnancy is life-threatening, or the woman whose dearly wanted fetus is diagnosed with a condition incompatible with life, when the clinics are gone? Will they be forced to travel abroad under heartbreaking circumstances, like these Northern Irish women? What do they think a scared 16-year-old is going to do when BPAS no longer exists? A rape victim? A mother of 3 children who can't cope with being pregnant again?

I regret not asking Tony these questions. I want to know if he's so fond of his views that he would be willing to let women die for them. But I'm not sure it would have helped. After all, he has God on his side, and won't God take care of these women? It might be small comfort to the vulnerable women who, without abortion, would be forced to risk their lives as pawns in this moral war, but Tony's belief in divine intervention presumably helps him to sleep at night.

The big advantage that 40 Days for Life have over the pro-choice movement is the simplicity of their message. "Killing an unborn child is wrong" is an easy concept to promote. It translates into some punchy slogans. It also conveniently glosses over the suffering caused by forced pregnancy and birth. In fact, it glosses over the woman altogether.

What happens to the woman carrying this embryo?

These people are not evil; they are naive. They are blinkered. They lack empathy. The woman I met yesterday - supporting her baby with one hand and an "I can live without abortion" sign in the other - presumably loves her children and cannot understand that becoming a mother might not be in another woman's best interests. The truth is that some women can't live without abortion. Unwanted pregnancy can and does ruin lives - not in every case, but in many. Pregnancy can (and frequently does) ruin a woman's health. To suggest otherwise shows willful ignorance of the facts of real people's lives.

If what they told me yesterday is true, this hardy bunch of Oxford 40DFL members provides financial help to women who want to keep their babies but can't afford to. And that's great. Really. It's also great that LIFE (despite my concern about their one-sided "counselling" service) have a safe house for women and children who are in danger of abuse or have nowhere else to go.

But let's not forget what 40 Days for Life aim to do. They want to take away British abortion facilities. They want the law, not the individual or her doctor, to decide how big a gamble to take on a risky pregnancy. In short, they want to play God with other people's lives.

We can't write 40DFL off as harmless. But we can learn from them. Their peaceful approach encourages empathy for the non-sentient fetus. The job of the pro-choice campaign is to encourage empathy for women, almost all of whom live with the possibility of unwanted pregnancy for much of their lives.

It's time to speak the truth: that contraception doesn't always work, that women do die when abortion is restricted, that women who have abortions are not some evil "other" but actually make up 1 in 3 people in the UK (your sister? your daughter? your mother?) It's time to make people understand the powerful effect - for good or for ill - that pregnancy has on a woman's body and emotions, to prevent people writing abortion off as a "convenience".

Don't assume that fighting for abortion rights is a job that can be left to other people, or think that unwanted pregnancy will never touch you or your family. Join Abortion Rights. Get involved in campaigning. Talk to your friends about why being pro-choice matters. Because if we don't, the fate of UK women will be left to ignorant old men like Tony Cash.

Next post: Oxford Feminist Network Tackles Anti-Choice Extremism