Uniting workers and communities in the London Borough of Camden
Welcome to our Autumn Update: as ever there’s a lot to catch up on – reshuffles, debates, demos and trials – and lots for us to do. We’re particularly excited about our upcoming protest, but before we start a quick reminder: it only takes a minute to join or donate to Abortion Rights. Your support will really make a difference to our campaign.
On Saturday 29th September UK pro-choicers will be out in force to call for Action on Abortion.
Alongside women in Belfast, Dublin and around the world, we’ll be marking the International Day for the Decriminalisation of Abortion by calling for rights for women in Northern Ireland and global legalisation of abortion.
And as we head towards another anti-choice 40 Days for Life campaign, we’ll be demanding an end to the harassment of women outside abortion clinics.
After a week in which we have seen the appalling Abort67 given the green light to continue with their aggressive campaign in Brighton (see below), now is the time to make some noise on this crucial issue.
So grab your banners and get yourself down to Old Palace Yard, opposite the Visitors Entrance to Parliament at 2pm on Saturday 29th September. We’d love to see you.
Get involved! We want to make the 29th a national day of action too. So why not set up your own action in your home town? Earlier this year enterprising pro-choicers around the country told one of our least favourite anti-choice groups to SPUC Off! – and it was a huge success. All you need is a few mates, a few placards and a facebook event page.
We’ll help you publicise your event on twitter (we’re using the hashtag #ActionOnAbortion) and on our website. Just email or tweet us your plans and we’ll help to spread the word. There are plans afoot for events in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee but we need more! Be part of a global campaign for Action on Abortion!
Two members of extreme anti-choice group Abort67 have been found not guilty of public order offences at a court in Brighton. The Abort67 activists, Andrew Stephenson and Kathryn Sloane, showed images of late-term abortions outside the Wistons clinic in Brighton, and refused to remove the pictures when asked to do so by police, who then brought a prosecution under the Public Order Act.
Abortion Rights said in response to the judgment:
“This verdict demonstrates that the current law is inadequate to protect women from intimidation by hard-line anti-abortion activists. It will be viewed as a green light for them to continue their aggressive campaign tactics.
“As a society we should be able to guarantee the privacy and safety of those seeking to access a legal medical treatment. We respect people’s right to protest and to express their views, but this cannot take precedence over access to vital healthcare services.”
Demand action on anti-choice harassment at abortion clinics: email your MP today.
The mid-term reshuffle has shaken up the Coalition cabinet, with the headline news bringing worry for abortion rights campaigners. Jeremy Hunt, the Tory MP who in the past voted to reduce the abortion time limit to just 12 weeks, is the new health minister, replacing Andrew Lansley.
Two other newly-moved ministers in key roles have – at best – demonstrated only weak support for the pro-choice position: former Transport Secretary Justine Greening has taken the top job at International Development, the department responsible for funding family planning projects in many developing countries. Abortion Rights hopes that Greening – who has voted “moderately” against abortion and related issues – will continue to support the Department’s good record on global family planning and abortion care.
Maria Miller, meanwhile, newly appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and also Women and Equalities Minister voted in favour of proposals by Nadine Dorries MP last year which could have seen abortion providers stripped of their role in counselling women on their pregnancy options.
But the reshuffle is not all bad news for the pro-choice movement. Anne Milton, who was an ally of Dorries’ effort to strip abortion providers of the right to offer counselling, has been removed from her public health role. Her replacements, Anna Soubry and Daniel Poulter are both pro-choice and it is hoped will act as a ‘counterweight’ to Hunt on the abortion front.
The future health minister of Northern Ireland, Jim Wells, has caused outrage by stating that he does not support abortion – even in cases where the pregnancy is a result of rape.
Wells, the South Down MLA and member of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who is due to become the province’s health minister next year, said in a radio interview that aborting a foetus conceived through rape was merely “punishing” the “ultimate victim” of the crime.
The DUP is staunchly anti-abortion, but Wells went too far even by the standards of his own party’s anti-choice platform. Following his remarks, the DUP issued a statement which read: “We would like to see as few abortions carried out as possible but recognise that a small number of abortions are legally carried out in Northern Ireland and victims of rape may be included within this.”
Just 43 legal abortions were carried out in Northern Ireland in 2010-2011.
Wells’ ultra-strict anti-abortion stance is out of step with public opinion in Northern Ireland – and with his political peers’ views on whether terminations should be available for rape victims.
A recent survey, carried out by an independent polling company on behalf of the Family Planning Association (FPA) of Northern Ireland, found that just one in five people holds views as extreme as Wells on the question of allowing rape victims to access abortion.
In a sad and unusual case, a woman from North Yorkshire has been jailed for eight years after she procured drugs to induce an abortion at 39 weeks.
Sarah Catt, of Sherburn-in-Elmet, is believed to have become pregnant following an affair with a colleague. She discovered she was 30 weeks pregnant following a scan at a Leeds hospital and later claimed to have had a legitimate abortion at a local clinic. Investigation of her computer revealed that she had in fact purchased medication used to induce labour online.
Catt has a complicated and unusual history of pregnancy and childbirth: having given up a child for adoption in 1999, she later had a termination with the agreement of her husband, tried to terminate another pregnancy but missed the legal limit, and concealed another pregnancy from her husband before the child’s birth.
Catt’s case is highly atypical; sadly, it does not seem likely that this will deter anti-abortion activists from using the case to advance their own position. In Abortion Rights’ view, the case underlines the need for rapid and convenient access to advice and support on reproductive issues. Sending Catt to prison is a disproportionate response; even though she clearly broke the law, she requires treatment rather than prison.
The Bpas 2012 public debate on how the right to protest and the right to freedom of speech interact and can interfere with the right to privacy took place in London’s Conway Hall on 11th September. The hall was packed to capacity and the debate itself was lively and mostly even-tempered, although moderator David Allen Green, a lawyer and journalist, had to remind the anti-choice side of the room to stay on topic several times, as the rights and wrongs of abortion were not the subject at hand.
On the pro-choice side, Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, spoke strongly in support of free speech and the right to protest, while also defending the right to privacy, and the right to access legal medical procedures without harassment.
Guardian contributor and blogger Sarah Ditum shared her own story of choice, and argued eloquently that outside anti-choice perspectives – especially those offered in an aggressive and intrusive way – are not helpful to people making decisions about crisis pregnancies that will affect their whole futures.
Opposing Ann and Sarah, Max Wind-Cowie of the think tank Demos gave a strong defence of the right to free speech and protest in all circumstances, in all locations, at all times, although at times he ended up agreeing more with the pro-choicers than with his supposed free speech confederate Andrea Minichiello Williams of Christian Concern, whose rambling speech did not address the topic as much as it did her opinion of the evils of abortion.
For history buffs among you, the archives of Abortion Rights’ predecessor organisation, the National Abortion Campaign, have recently been catalogued and are now available to researchers at the Wellcome Library in London, alongside the records of our other parent group, the Abortion Law Reform Association . Further details of the collection (which includes a letter from Dame Helen Mirren, apparently!) are here.
Following another highly successful UK Feminista Summer School this month (where Abortion Rights had a great time taking part in the ‘How to campaign for…Reproductive Rights panel), it’s time to sign up for UK Feminista’s next event – the Feminist Lobby of Parliament on 24th October.
Activists from across the UK will be converging on Westminster to call for action on violence against women and girls, investment in childcare, representation of women and justice and rights – including abortion rights.
We’re delighted to be supporting the event and hope you’ll get involved. Sign up and find out more here.
Conference season is here again. First up is Labour Conference in Manchester from 30th September to 4th October. We’ll be there for the duration and we could do with some help on our stall. If you are already attending conference or would like to go, and you can spare a day to help, we would love to hear from you (as soon as possible!) Please email the office if you’re interested.
We’re also keen to build a network of politically active supporters from all parties. If you’re a party member – of whatever type! – and you would like to get involved, drop us a line and let us know.
Abortion Rights is supporting the TUC’s March for a Future That Works on Saturday 20th October. A strong NHS and excellent reproductive and sexual health services are vital if women are to exercise their rights to safe, legal abortion, and pro-choice supporters will be marching to protect them at the events in London and Glasgow.
We’ll also have some lovely new Abortion Rights T-shirts for supporters to wear on the march – email the office if you’d like one!
Anti-choice groups have jumped on the Paralympic bandwagon and are using the success of the Games to launch a new push for a ban on abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality. Read more