Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Event: Working Together for Women

Wednesday 10th July 2013, 6.30 - 8pm

Old Sessions House, Farringdon, EC1R 0NA (nearest tube Farringdon)

There are huge challenges facing those of us working in policy and campaigns fighting for women with more than ever to be done and fewer of us working in the field. In spite of these difficulties, there are a number of successes where women’s organisations have worked together, crossing agendas where appropriate and supporting each other in campaigns. Unfortunately there is often little time to focus on how we might do this and how others have achieved goals by working together.
Join bpas for an informal networking event which will provide an opportunity to talk to others looking to work together to effect policy changes to improve women’s lives and hear from speakers who are doing just that.

Speakers include:

Katy Taylor, Aya Project . The Aya Project is a partnership project between Women’s Aid and Imkaan which works to build the resilience of the specialist women’s sector and BMER women’s sector working to end violence against women and girls.

Kat Banyard, UK Feminista. UK Feminista supports individuals and grassroots groups to campaign for gender equality, and are currently working with Object on the ‘Lose the lads’ mags’ campaign.
Wine, soft drinks and nibbles will be provided.

Admission to this event is free and open to all working in and around the women's sector but please book your place in advance with katherine.o’

The hashtag for the event is #togetherforwomen

Friday, 7 June 2013

An Open Letter on the Importance of Reproductive Choice

Reproductive choice or reproductive justice? 

For me, it is more than a matter of semantics. “Choice” means something specific. As I tried to explain in an earlier piece, personal, individual “choice” in reproductive decision-making is something special and particular. It relates to the matter of who can make a decision, which refers to the agency and autonomy of individuals. When we talk about reproductive choices, we refer to the private matters that each of us must be able to resolve for ourselves. This is more than health, and extends even beyond equality and justice.

Perhaps here in the UK, some of us feel the importance of reproductive choice because none of us have ever known it. Regardless of our wealth, education, or standing, none of us can have a legal abortion in Britain because we decide, personally and for ourselves, that it is right.

British abortion law and practice has never acknowledged women’s reproductive choice. Our legislation was drafted in the 1960s to create conditions under which abortion could be delivered safely and regulated closely for the public good—that it should be a right for women was not even discussed. (Law professor Sally Sheldon documents this well in her 1997 book Beyond Control: Medical Power and Abortion Law). Our parliament, courts, and medical professionals have never accepted that women have the capacity to decide about abortion for themselves at any stage in pregnancy. Instead the law offers a legal defense for a doctor who decides an abortion is best for a woman’s health.

That legacy of medical patronage remains today. Even now, an abortion is unlawful unless two doctors certify “in good faith” that it meets grounds relating to a woman’s health.

This means we have a law that allows for the protection of the health of the pregnant woman but denies her the right as a person to decide on her own reproductive destiny. A doctor can agree to an abortion because the woman’s health will be damaged by her pregnancy, but not because she simply does not want a baby.

Our law works for women because our doctors frame unwanted pregnancy as a medical health issue. They say that denying an abortion is bad for mental health, or that statistically birth is riskier than abortion. And of course this is true. But any “pro-choice” doctor will tell you he or she finds this demeaning and degrading.

“Choice” cannot simply be folded into the fabric of health, because not all of the choices we need to defend are those that accord with our views of health—sometimes they are just about what people want.

It has been argued that abortion is seldom a matter of choice; choices are never “truly free,” but are shaped by circumstances. But consider this: A pregnant woman who gets a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis, is offered an abortion, and is struggling to decide her pregnancy’s future may feel she has “no choice” as to her decision. But she has a different sense of “no choice” than a woman who literally has no choice, because such an abortion would be illegal. The one thing worse than having to decide between two things you don’t want is not being able to decide at all.

Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice put it well when he explained how our circumstances, our access to resources, give context to our decisions but do not fix them for us:

Choice, at its core, recognizes that oppression influences, but does not dictate, our choices. By grounding itself in the idea that each person has a right to bodily autonomy, to determine the course of his or her reproductive life regardless of circumstance, choice respects individual conscience.

This is important because not all women in the same circumstances will want the same thing. It is important because the decisions that we make express what we feel and who we are.

We, each of us, make decisions according to our values, and this is important to us. The decision a woman makes about not being able to bear another child because it will impoverish her family may not feel like a “choice,” but it is a decision of a different order to a decision by her doctor that she cannot bear another child regardless of what she wants. It matters who takes the decision. Agency is everything—even when the outcome of the decision is the same. A woman who decides her poverty means she must have an abortion is in a different situation than a woman who is told she must have one. Society removes personal decisions from those who are not competent to make them; when decisions about abortion are taken away from women, the status of competent, rational adults is taken away too.

The value that doctors accord to choice—that is, to woman’s autonomy—shapes the way we are treated. When you value a woman’s choice, you respect her right to make a decision you think is wrong, perhaps a less-than-healthy choice, but one that is nevertheless hers and not yours. Here in the UK, we increasingly see people’s choices narrowed because someone else decides what is right for them. Emergency contraception is under-promoted and overpriced, lest women should choose to rely on it too much. Regulatory guidance tells us that women should leave our abortion clinics with a method of contraception, regardless of what the woman wants.

Choice does not necessarily have to be in a name. But it needs to be at the core of our values, because respect for women’s capacity to decide really does matter.

For the first time in decades, in the UK we are starting to engage a new generation campaigning for choice. The notion that people should, and can, have the freedom to make destiny-changing decisions for themselves is a very big idea. It needs a very big voice, and we’re glad to hear Jodi Magee say Physicians for Reproductive Health is still part of the choir.

This article was originally written by Ann Furedi, bpas Chief Executive, for RH Reality Check

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Event: Abortion in Ireland: what the law means for women & pro-choice campaigners

Thursday 20th June, 6.30pm to 8.30pm at the Medical Society of London, 11 Chandos Street, London, W1G 9DP. 

Abortion is back at the top of the political agenda in Ireland.

Following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar last October, the Irish Government has been forced to produce abortion legislation - but only for cases in which the woman's life is at risk. In Northern Ireland abortion is only allowed in exceptional circumstances and nearly all women who need an abortion are denied it.

This free public meeting will hear from experts working with Irish women and fighting for their right to choose. We will hear about the current legal situation, the impact this has on Irish women, prospects for change - and how pro-choice campaigners can get involved.

The meeting will be followed by a wine reception.

This event is free to attend and open to all but all attending must register beforehand here as there are limited spaces.

Speakers include:

Stephanie Lord, Choice Ireland
Dr Audrey Simpson, Director of Family Planning Association, FPA, in Northern Ireland
The discussion will be chaired by Darinka Aleksic, Abortion Rights 

The hashtag for the event will be #Irishabortionlaw 

This event is organised by Voice for Choice, a national coalition of organisations working together to campaign for a woman’s choice on abortion.

Pregnant women aren't incubators - so why does medical advice treat them as though they are?

For today’s example of how not to talk to pregnant women, just look at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).  

These childbirth specialists have somehow managed to issue the most ridiculous, alarmist advice, that mothers-to-be should view everyday foods and objects as a potential source of danger to their developing child. 

The RCOG has been roundly criticised, for falling into the trap of using pseudo-science to alarm women who are already inundated unhelpful pregnancy advice, much of which is based more on superstition than science; but will the backlash stop women from worrying, or doctors from scaremongering? Sadly not. 

A conference of medical professionals held at the Royal Society of Medicine next week will discuss the way that advice and anxieties about pregnancy have been fuelled in recent years by a culture of fetal ‘imaging and imagining’, where the ability to see the fetus in the womb has contributed to a set of ideas about the fetus, and the pregnant woman, that are both inaccurate and insulting. 

Zoe Williams, journalist and author of What Not to Expect When You're Expecting, will talk about the strange elision of anti-abortion images and arguments and those routinely used in pregnancy advice and antenatal care. With the aggressive monitoring of pregnant woman’s behaviour, particularly in relation to what they eat and whether they drink or smoke, the idea has been encouraged that the fetus and the women are two separate individuals whose needs are at odds with one another. 

One consequence of this is that the pregnant woman becomes seen less as a person than as an environment for optimal fetal development; and that it is the role of health authorities and  public health campaigns to dictate to women how they should behave to achieve a healthy pregnancy. This is how you get to the kind of bizarre advice issued by the RCOG – that for women to do anything at all without considering the potential impact on her pregnancy represents a form of irresponsible risk-taking. 

Of course, fetal imaging has contributed to many genuine and important improvements in antenatal care. But at the same time, images of the fetus are misused as justifications for why, in the 21 century, it is permissible to treat women with wanted pregnancies as mere incubators, and women who terminate unwanted pregnancies as murderers. This represents a confusion between what ultrasound scans of the fetus can tell us (how a fetus looks) and what scans cannot (what a fetus is). 

This confusion will be addressed by Dr Stuart Derbyshire, Reader in Psychology at the University of Birmingham and an expert voice in the UK on the question of fetal pain. He argues that improvements in the clarity of fetal imaging encourages a view of the fetus as a ‘fragile person’, which in turn encourages a sense of danger regarding eating, drinking, exercising, being stressed or becoming sick during pregnancy. In fact, a more rational understanding of the fetus is that it is not yet a fully-formed, or socially conscious, member of society, and the womb is a highly safe and buffered environment. 

So a fetus might look like it is smiling - but once we ask ourselves, who can it possibly be smiling at?, we realise that there is something nonsensical about the idea that a fetus, developing on its own in the dark, sleep-like environment of the womb, can experience the kind of emotional interactions that it takes born babies several months to learn. We can also see how reading into images of the fetus the things that we want to see in born babies creates a huge emotional pressure for the pregnant woman, whether she wants to continue her pregnancy or not.  

Pro-choice advocates have long been aware of the way that images of developing fetuses are used to guilt-trip women about their decision to end a pregnancy through abortion. Anti-abortion campaigners display graphic, and inaccurate, photographs of fetuses that look like newborn babies, and infer from these images that fetuses can also act like babies: that they can smile, feel pain, even ‘walk’ in the womb. The exploitation of fetal imaging in this way has become more extreme in recent years, particularly in the United States of America, where a number of states have passed ‘mandatory ultrasound’ laws that require women seeking abortion to view a scan of the fetus before having the procedure. 

Professor Carol Sanger of Columbia Law School will describe the impact of these laws in a culture where, she says, women have become increasingly ‘fetusised’. When wanted pregnancies are now routinely announced by posting scan photos on social networking sites, and the diagnostic scan - which in Britain takes place at about 20 weeks of pregnancy - is often treated more as a social opportunity to ‘meet the baby’ than a clinical appointment to detect anomalies or growth problems, the idea that the fetus is the same kind of being as a newborn baby is no longer a prejudice promoted by anti-abortion campaigners on the margins. 

Women seeking abortion do not need an ultrasound scan to know that they will have a baby if the pregnancy develops. They have made the decision to have an abortion precisely because they do not want a baby, or cannot cope with having a baby, at that point in their lives. So the only point of forcing them to see an ultrasound scan can be to make them feel bad about their decision. 

For women with a wanted pregnancy, improvements in fetal imaging should improve the quality of antenatal care, through the ability to detect anomalies in the pregnancy more clearly and at an earlier stage. But through the overblown and unscientific pregnancy advice given to women, which implies that everything a pregnant woman eats or drinks passes directly to ‘baby’, as though she is feeding an infant blue cheese or red wine from a spoon, the use and abuse of fetal imaging has actually mystified pregnancy even further. Some of the literature displayed by the NHS to promote healthy pregnancy behaviour uses images that could have been taken directly from anti-abortion propaganda – and this should give us pause for thought. 

Despite technological advances that have made pregnancy and birth much safer, pregnant women are encouraged to feel neurotically self-conscious and fearful. This is really not what women should have to expect when they are expecting.  

'Abortion, motherhood and the medical profession’, a conference organised jointly by British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Royal Society of Medicine, takes place on Wednesday 12 June 2013 at the Royal Society Of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, LONDON, W1G 0AE. View the programme here 

This article was originally written Jennie Bristow, bpas, for the Independent.