Abortion Rights – 5 New Year’s Resolutions

The article below, by Kerry Abel, was originally published here by Abortion Rights.

Now’s the time to consider our resolutions for 2022. Abortion Rights’ Chair has drafted some ideas that our politicians might want to adopt this year for healthy, robust abortion rights.

I know it’s hard immediately after Christmas to think straight and gather yourself together to set new year’s resolutions that you really want to keep past the 3rd of January. This is especially true for our politicians and policy makers – so, to help out, I’ve drafted up five suggestions to make sure 2022 is healthy and happy.

NB – there are no diet ads.

Make home use for early medical abortion pills legal with good quality telemedicine

We are on the cusp of a significant breakthrough in abortion care in the UK: we are campaigning hard for the government to make permanent the pills at home provision they enacted for the pandemic. This is often called telemedicine and allows the two medical abortion pills to be sent to the patient for them to take at home after a video or telephone consultation.

The swift relaxation of the rules about home use in March 2020 shows so clearly to me that this could have been done all along and all of the excuses over the years were very much political reasons rather than medical reasons.

The strong evidence that has been published from the many many worldwide studies over decades, because these pills have been used by Women on Web and many others for years, is that medical abortions are extremely safe.

But not only that, they break down so many barriers for women requesting abortions.

  • The barriers of travel in rural communities, where public transport is sparse and expensive and takes a long time.
  • The barriers of having to take time off work. Especially if you are in insecure work – zero hours etc.
  • Having to sort out childcare, which can be difficult and expensive. We know that more than 50% of those having abortions already have children, so this is common.
  • Going to a GP or a clinic is harder for communities that have more stigma attached to abortion.
  • These issues are compounded for disabled people, poorer women, Black and Brown women, trans people, those in intimate partner violence situations etc.

We have so much evidence!

Evidence of women passing their abortions on the bus home, women who couldn’t secure childcare to make their appointment, women who couldn’t go to an appointment because their partner knew their regular routines and controlled them.

I could go on, but there’s too much. It’s really important that we ensure that telemedicine and pills by post, or self-managed abortions are made permanent. It’s a cost effective measure that allows women much more control over their abortions and their lives.

Since telemedicine has been in place, wait times have halved and abortions can be performed earlier, making them safer and more effective. Major medical complications have dropped by two-thirds.

The government said they would keep the provisions in place for the length of the pandemic or two years whichever was shorter. Then at the end of last year they put out a consultation to ask people what they thought.

The problem with the consultation is that it leaves the door open to treating medical evidence in the same as anti-choice letter writers. And we don’t know much about the consultation because, despite the fact that it closed in February 2021, they haven’t released the results and only vaguely said they would publish the report by the end of last year, but there is still no sign of it.

We do know from the Scottish government consultation, which was carried out in almost exactly the same way a few months earlier but that also hasn’t published its findings, that 50% of its respondents were anti-choice.

Let’s resolve not to make healthcare policy by letter-writing campaign and get the experts to review the scientific data instead. If this was done, we would see legislation for early medical pills for sure.

Expose the misinformation of abortion reversal pills once and for all

The scandal of SPUC and others peddlling abortion reversal pills through a third party American weblink that was exposed last year is still unresolved.

For many people the first port of call when looking for information is to ask Google or browse Facebook. But the internet is awash with fake news on abortion and some people get unwittingly drawn down the rabbit hole when trying to find accurate information to help them decide what to do next. When this involves healthcare advice about abortion, we know that anti-choicers have no qualms lying to people. So much so, the NHS website section on abortion has to explicitly myth-bust the lies told, for example that abortion causes breast cancer and infertility.

As the Times’ undercover investigation last month found “Unproven ‘treatment’ claims are putting vulnerable women at risk” and which the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the UK’s leading authority on women’s health, says is unproven and potentially dangerous.

There is at least one investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC) as a result of promoting the practice. However, there is no official advice from the NHS or the Department of Health that the procedure could be dangerous. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) told the Times it had not been asked to look into this experimental and unapproved ‘treatment’

Why the silence? Let’s have some clear guidance on this quackery before something serious happens.

End clinic harassment

Not even a global pandemic has deterred the campaigners outside clinics who tug at visitors’ sleeves and whisper in their ears outside abortion clinics. We are still hearing stories of women being harassed for no reason other than trying to access legal healthcare and information.

I’d argue that anti-choice activists don’t have the courage of their convictions, the organisations they support call for complete abortion bans without exception, so as they beleive in banning abortion full stop, why are they not trying to change the law or protesting outside the Department of Health? Why are they focusing on individual women and pregnant people outside clinics?

It means that hundreds of service users who need abortion care every year are forced to walk past people opposing their right to access legal, essential healthcare as they enter clinics. There are people with microphones who call abortion seekers murderers, people who use their phones to film, people who follow and push leaflets into the hands of healthcare seekers with entirely false medical information that abortion causes breast cancer and increases the risk of suicide.

Sister Supporter encourages witnesses of this harassment to report it on their site and they are building a dossier of evidence to challenge local authorities, teaming up with the Good Law Project. Back Off Scotland, has estimated that 70% of Scottish women of reproductive age live in a Health Board with hospitals or clinics targeted by anti-choice groups in the past five years.

Any politician or policymaker can read the extensive evidence of harassment that is affecting our citizens’ legal right to access healthcare. (And if you are an activist they have petitions and actions you can get involved in.)

Implement paid leave for abortion policies at work

The online bank Monzo included abortion in its radical new pregnancy loss policy last year; which applies to pregnancies at any stage, in contrast to laws that only require UK businesses to allow the use of planned maternity or paternity leave for losses that occur after 24 weeks. We have been thinking about the role employers play in someone’s abortion.

We know abortion is a workplace issue – granting paid leave around pregnancy loss reduces stigma, and enhances abortion access and economic security. It is estimated that one in three women will have at least one abortion in her lifetime. When a woman lacks paid sick days, this becomes yet another barrier to access.

Many women are living on the margins of financial stability in precarious employment, working for low wages on zero-hour contacts, they simply can’t afford the loss of wages and possibly their jobs. So when public sector bodies and larger companies act this sends an important message down the line which goes a long way to changing society.

A woman’s ability to obtain an abortion without barriers or stigma is central to achieving reproductive justice. It’s time for employers to do their bit to actively improve their employees’ health and economic security. We look forward to this policy becoming standard practice.

This is also a trade union issue, so if you hold power in your union or have a vote or a say, then this applies to you too!

Decriminalise abortion now

The evidence gathered from home use of the early medical abortion pill has highlighted how traditional abortions, though legal since 1967, has still let some fall through the cracks. It’s time we took the decision out of the doctors’ hands, out of the criminal code –  and gave women and pregnant people the true choice to make, allowing them to access abortion equitably.

Decriminalisation doesn’t mean deregulation of abortion. There are many medical guidelines that doctors have to follow to carry out safe and legal abortions, but when gate-keeping access to abortion comes from Victorian legislation, it’s time to update it. We know we need to keep up the pressure to ensure access is fair and equal, and that people should be able to choose the right procedure for them. We think the NHS could be improved to shift abortion away from doctors in many situations[ms1] , allowing specialist nurses and healthcare workers to provide abortions – this ‘task-shifting’ has been suggested by several academic studies.

Since pills have been available – and women have been forced to order pills online when their laws let them down – the cat has been let out of the bag. Home use has been proven to be safe by studies over and over with waiting times cut, access improved and high patient satisfaction. It is simply the political will to control women that is standing in our way and the pandemic has shown that we can change the government’s mind when it suits them.

At our 2021 AGM Abortion Rights resolved to continue to campaign[ms2]  for decriminalisation of abortion. To see the fight for better access, for telemedicine and at-home abortions in this context and to campaign for women to be trusted with their decisions and have proper control over their bodies. See the motion and take note politicians!