Thursday, 27 March 2014

Nick Clegg calls opposition to morning-after pill “patronising” and “sexist”

Earlier this morning on his LBC show, Nick Clegg, perhaps fired up from his head-to-head with Nigel Farage last night, launched a passionate attack on those who oppose making access to the morning-after pill easier for young women.

Yesterday, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) produced new guidance stating that young women should be allowed to keep emergency contraception at home, so they have immediate access to it if they need it. Nice also called for the morning-after pill to be available free of charge to all women under 25.

Yet there has been the inevitable outcry from certain politicians and journalists – a reaction which Clegg described as being based on out-dated "medieval" attitudes towards women.

The Deputy Prime Minister said "I am absolutely appalled and really very angry on behalf of many, many women across the country about the suggestion that giving a woman the right to buy a morning-after pill will somehow automatically lead to more promiscuous behaviour.

"I think it is demeaning, I think it is patronising, I think it is sexist.

"Women don't take a morning-after pill lightly. It is not something you casually do. To say to a woman she can't have the right, in case she has unprotected sex, to have a morning-after pill available because we - the Government, society or whichever newspaper columnist is pontificating about this - think she will suddenly become terribly promiscuous, I think is an absolute insult to women across the country.

"I believe the experts, who have quite clearly said that providing the morning-after pill and other forms of contraception - the evidence is very clear - doesn't lead to more promiscuous behaviour. It does help prevent unwanted pregnancies.

"This is lifting the lid on a really fundamental difference in attitudes towards women. Women shouldn't be told 'We are not going to give you the freedom to buy something from a chemist because we don't trust how you will behave sexually'. It's a Victorian - worse than that, medieval - approach to women."
Nick Clegg said that doctors should encourage girls under 16 who are considering contrac eption to talk to their parents, but that : "At the end of the day, when you are faced with the reality of a teenager who is in trouble, you as a medical expert want to help them, and I think for us to decree that they can or can't help someone isn't going to alter the fact that that 16-year-old is in trouble.

"I don't want to see teenagers - or anybody, it at all possible - suffering an unwanted pregnancy. I don't want to see the very high rates we have had in the past of unwanted pregnancies.

"The way to deal with that is to make sure we go with the evidence that if you provide people with education and information and make contraception available on a responsible basis, that is the way we stop unwanted pregnancies, not by resorting to really out-dated attitudes towards women."

We agree with Nick.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Maternity care is not just a British right - it's a human right

The right of pregnant migrant women in the UK to access and receive vital maternity care is in jeopardy, as a result of proposed NHS charging policies and the Immigration Bill, currently in the House of Lords. We are working with Maternity Action and the Royal College of Midwives to campaign to ensure that all women have access to the maternity care they need.

Below is a guest post from Maternity Action, the UK’s leading charity committed to ending inequality and improving the health and well-being of pregnant women, partners and young children.

Maternity care is classified as a human right and as such is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits all pregnancy-related discrimination, including making it unlawful for NHS organisations or clinicians to discriminate against pregnant women on the basis of disability, race, religion, immigration status and national origin. In line with this, a pregnant woman’s right to receive maternity care on the NHS is protected in the UK as ‘immediately necessary treatment’, which means it should not be refused or delayed for any reason.

Under current rules, women are chargeable for maternity care if they are not ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK and do not fall within other exempt groups. Women who are chargeable should receive an invoice for treatment, often early in their pregnancy, but should not be refused care if they are unable to pay. If a woman does not pay, the Home Office may be notified and choose to deny subsequent immigration applications, pending payment of the debt.
Present rules on charging for maternity care are already complex and confusing, poorly understood by migrant women, and poorly implemented by trusts and NHS staff. Government research suggests that NHS trusts have incorrectly classified as many as 30% of the people that were assessed and so charged people entitled to free care.

Recent government proposals in the Immigration Bill are very likely to exacerbate the problem pregnant migrant women already face in accessing maternity care, including in some recent instances of women being denied care because of their inability to pay, despite the rules against this. These provisions are part of a broader programme of changes to migrants’ access to NHS services, proposed in a Department of Health consultation last year. Among other things, the Bill: introduces a ‘migrant levy’ on visa applications, whereby an upfront fee will have to be paid to access healthcare; significantly expands the group of migrants who are chargeable for NHS care; and, extends charging to aspects of primary and emergency care. Crucially, and in addition to this, it identifies and pursues chargeable migrants much more aggressively, including requiring NHS staff to essentially ‘police’ who is chargeable for care based on their immigration status.

Charges at the point of care create additional and unnecessary risks that women will choose not to see a midwife throughout their pregnancy or may even avoid hospitals altogether and try to have their baby at home. For those that do see a midwife, many only see a midwife very late in pregnancy, or try to see a midwife only to be denied access to care because of their inability to pay. This can prevent midwives from identifying and treating health conditions early in pregnancy such as, HIV, Hepatitis, Rubella and Syphilis – leading to significantly worse health outcomes for vulnerable migrant women and their babies, as well as complex, costly interventions at a later date. Furthermore, 20% of all maternal deaths are to women who commenced care later in pregnancy (after 22 weeks), missed more than four antenatal visits, or had no antenatal care at all.

We know that vulnerable migrant women already have significantly worse maternal and infant health than the rest of the population. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence recognises this and has issued guidance, which identifies recent migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as a distinctive risk group and recommends that care providers take additional measures to promote early engagement with maternity services. Yet these changes are likely to make it much harder for vulnerable and at risk women to access maternity care.
Whilst it is true that under these proposals all pregnant women in the UK will still legally have the right to receive maternity care, the question remains, in practice will they receive it? Will they feel confident to access routine and vital antenatal appointments if they fear doing so will result in costly fees they cannot afford and may be used against their future visa applications? Will they choose not to endanger their life and that of their unborn child, by going to hospital when they are in labour, rather than staying at home, if they fear it will result in deportation? The reality is vulnerable pregnant migrant women residing in the UK are a lot less likely to feel empowered or supported to exercise their human right to maternity care should this legislation, in its current form, become law.
To learn more about the campaign or to get involved, such as through writing to your MP, visit the Maternity Action website here or contact Sarah LaPham, Public Affairs and Campaigns Officer at Maternity Action 

You can also follow this campaign on Twitter: #MatCare4All

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Ministers must act now to protect the health of women and their babies

At bpas, we see hundreds of women who are making the incredibly painful decision to end a much wanted pregnancy after a diagnosis of a neural tube defect such as spina bifida and anencephaly. There are an estimated 1,000 cases of these conditions diagnosed in the UK every year. Spina bifida causes lifelong disability while anencephaly, where the baby’s skull and brain do not form properly, is always fatal.

Sadly the UK has one of the highest rates of neural tube defects in the European Union, and it has remained largely unchanged since the early 1960s. Yet one simple measure could dramatically reduce the numbers of these cases – the fortification of flour with folic acid.
To avoid these conditions, women are advised to take folic acid supplements and up to 12 weeks in to their pregnancy. But in the UK nearly half of pregnancies are not planned, so many women are unable to take these supplements at the point when it will have an impact on the healthy development of their pregnancy.  The neural tube will have formed around the time a woman misses her first period. Mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid would mean the vitamin entered everyday foods widely consumed by women of childbearing age, like pasta and bread.
This is why we are calling on the UK’s health minister to implement the recommendations made seven years ago by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition that flour be fortified, recommendations that were approved by the UK’s chief medical officers.
This wouldn’t be a big change from current practice – the UK has been fortifying flour with calcium, thiamine, niacin and iron for over 50 years. The principle and the mechanics are already in place. And countries which have introduced mandatory fortification, such as the US and Canada, have seen a big drop in the numbers of cases of neural tube defects, with no evidence of adverse effects on the rest of the population. So why doesn't the UK follow suit?
Unplanned pregnancy is a fact of life, and it is often wonderful news for women and their partners. But it is completely unrealistic to expect all women to be regularly taking folic acid supplements on the basis that they might conceive.

The fortification of flour with folic acid is a simple measure with huge benefits. Our message to the UK’s health ministers is simple – act now to protect the health of women and their babies.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Join our community

We have recently launched an online comunity with

We hope it will be a space where people can ask questions, share experiences and advice, and get support on a a range of issues including abortion, sexual health, contraception, fertility, and pregnancy. All members can be completely anonymous, and we have one of our Nurses on hand for any specific medical queries.

It is completely free to sign up and only takes a couple of minutes - for more information or to join, visit the community here.

Monday, 3 March 2014

In Desperation - Letters to the Abortion Law Reform Association from the 1960s

During the 1960s, the Abortion Law Reform Association received thousands of letters from women, their relatives and friends, all desperate for advice about abortion. The booklet below includes a selection of these incredibly poignant letters.

These letters represent a tiny handful of all the women who needed abortion care before the Act of 1967, and the vast majority would have been forced to continue with their pregnancy despite their circumstances. These were women who were suicidal, women who had experienced multiple miscarriages, women with severe medical conditions, women who had been abandoned by their partners, women living in poverty without enough money to support their existing family, and women who just simply couldn't cope with having a child.

We will be sharing individual letters on Twitter for the next couple of weeks using the hashtag #bpasarchive , and a gallery of the full booklet is below.