A woman’s right to choose in matters of abortion has been long fought and dearly-won. The fight for abortion rights is like housework in that it keeps needing to be fought for again and again. There is no freedom for women without the right to control their fertility. This short article is a quick summary of the issue, which has surfaced again in UK politics. No woman of childbearing age can say that she would never need an abortion. Savita (see below) didn’t go into hospital to have an abortion but she would have come out alive if she had been given one.
Many women have died from being denied this basic right. Many different campaigns have been needed to achieve the limited rights we have now. Anyone who wants to restrict those rights will face a huge response from women. The right to choose to continue or terminate a pregnancy must be with the woman but she is entitled to the support of society if she chooses to have a baby. That support is severely limited.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” Having a baby is an event for the whole society and for many decades to come. But the decision as to what goes on inside a women’s body is hers and hers alone.
Abortion happens in every culture and happened at every stage of history. Social, legal, religious and technological pressures prevented some women from accessing safe abortion, but there has never been a time when women did not seek abortion for thousands of different reasons. Most countries in the world allow abortion, but our rights are under threat from right-wing governments and from the US. Much health care in “developing” countries comes through NGOs. Current US policy is restricting the role of NGOs in supporting reproductive rights, through the global gag rule. So think on if you think all is well in the area of abortion rights. It is still a very live battle.
The law in the UK is summarized here; “A pregnancy may only be terminated under section 1(1)(a) of the Abortion Act if it has not exceeded 24 weeks. The majority of abortions carried out in England, Scotland, and Wales take place within this time, over 90 per cent of which are carried out at 13 weeks or earlier. This percentage has remained relatively constant over the past decade. Early abortion is
generally seen as medically preferable due to the lower risk of complication.” The-Law-and-Ethics-of-Abortion-2018. BMA
Until 2018 Ireland had very restrictive laws on abortion. Savita Halappanavar, a dentist, happily pregnant died on 22 October 2012 in Galway from sepsis, having been denied an abortion. This was a much-wanted pregnancy which had failed, but the hospital failed “to offer all management options to Ms Halappanavar who was experiencing an inevitable miscarriage of an early second-trimester pregnancy where the risk to her was increasing with time, from the time that her membranes had ruptured.” Savita died of septic miscarriage, having been refused an abortion because of the laws of Ireland that forbade it. Savita requested an abortion after the miscarriage started and could not be stopped. This was denied.
Savita’s case prompted and publicised the huge campaign in Ireland to Repeal the 8th, which was put to a referendum and won with 66.4% of the vote.
Before this, over decades, many Irish women travelled to Liverpool Women’s Hospital to have an abortion. We believe this still happens in some cases because Irish Abortion law is still not comprehensive.
Abortion rights were only won in Northern Ireland a few months ago, on 21st October 2019, and it was met with well funded and nasty opposition When it did go through the UK parliament. The MP who moved the Bill,, Stella Creasey, herself pregnant, featured in an obnoxious very personal anti-abortion campaign in her constituency.
Gruesome anti-abortion posters in Stella Creasey’s constituency when she moved for abortion rights in Northern Ireland and while she was pregnant.
The World Health Organisation reports that globally each year between 4.7% – 13.2% of maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortion, and that “Almost every abortion death and disability could be prevented through sexuality education, use of effective contraception, provision of safe, legal induced abortion, and timely care for complications“.
Abortion is intensely political. Trump called for abortion to be punished in some way. It is inseparable from politics. In the US the Right-wing government in many states have seriously restricted women’s rights to access safe abortions. The US already has the worst maternal outcomes in the developed world. It’s important to remember that there are strong links between the high management of the NHS, huge US health corporations, and between Johnson and Trump, so what happens in the US is important to us. Fortunately, the women of the US are fighting back. On January 19th 2020 thousands of women gathered in an annual march to recall the enormous march of women when Trump was elected in 2017.
The campaign for abortion rights has been called anti-catholic. However between 1985 and 2016 Catholic support for allowing abortion if a woman doesn’t want the child almost doubled, from 33% to 61%, and Catholic Ireland voted overwhelmingly to repeal the 8th. We disagree with some of the Catholic clergy, not with Catholic women. This campaign is a campaign for all for women’s rights.
We support a woman’s right to choose to have a baby too, if humanly possible.
Save Liverpool Women’s Hospital Campaign supports abortion rights and also supports fertility rights. For too many women accessing fertility treatment is restricted on the NHS and involves eye-watering costs up to £5000 per cycle for treatment after NHS allocation has failed.
We support the rights of the mother and child to have support from the community. The right to have a child and the right to know that that child will be allowed to thrive is also important. There is no right to choose if dire poverty is the alternative to abortion. The third child rule which means that a woman who has a third child cannot claim benefits for that child is utterly foul and disgusting. Everyone in work pays national insurance and everyone who buys goods pays tax. We do this, so and we should be protected from dire poverty. This is a very rich country, but children should be protected in every country. The reactionary third child policy is a disgrace. Already many first and second babies go short in this cruel benefits system. More than 100,000 children live in poverty on Merseyside, most from families with at least one parent in work. Child Poverty Action Group CPAG reports that the families challenging the third child policy in court ;
“Of the two claimant households that will be part of the Supreme Court case, one of the lone parents is on income support and suffers from various disabilities while the other is receiving the working tax credit. Neither of the mothers intended to get pregnant with the ‘additional child’, indeed one of them was on the pill at the time, but equally for moral reasons neither of them was prepared to consider terminating the pregnancy.”
Child care When women return to work after having a baby child care is often too expensive or unavailable. Grandparents are playing a huge role in childcare so mums can work, even when the mums would prefer to be at home with tiny children. But returning to work does not give them equal pay with men. The maternity pay gap is a serious problem for women raising children.
“Women’s increased education and greater continuity of employment have not been sufficient to eliminate wage penalties faced by mothers returning to work after having children. Scores of economics studies demonstrate that women’s improved human capital in many countries has not provided the necessary full protection from discrimination against mothers”.
The maternal pay gap exists in most professions, even amongst doctors.
Should disability affect the Abortion time limit? There is another debate is that the disability of a foetus should not be a reason for an extended time limit for abortions. We believe the choice is with the mother. That is the only safe and just position.
Some women do choose to continue a pregnancy even if there is a serious disability diagnosed before birth. It is her choice. We would call for full support for women making this decision too. It’s hard enough though, to adjust to the new emotional realities of life for a much-loved baby with disabilities, and the consequent changes for the family. This journey of adaptation can be life-affirming and give great joy, but it is often accompanied by dire financial hardship and inadequate social provision, exhaustion and family breakdown.
“In order for Ben to be at nursery, he needs 1:1 care. His condition means he cannot move independently at all, feed himself or access toys or activities or play with his friends without support. Since he started at nursery we have tried three different funding pots to get 1:1 support for him. Now the nursery has to apply every 16 weeks for extra funding. It’s a source of major anxiety because every 16 weeks I face the
fact that I might have to give up work with no notice period. Every 16 weeks, I face the possibility of us losing our home.” (Jennie, mum to Ben, who has quadriplegic cerebral palsy from Contact a Family)
Whilst there are benefits available, they are generally regarded as inadequate. Our campaign believes disabled children should be cherished and well cared for. Sadly, they are more likely than average to be living in hardship. We believe women should fight like hell for better benefits and resources for disabled children and their families
“There is evidence that disabled children are significantly more likely to grow up in poverty than those who are non-disabled (MacInnes et al. 2014). According to Read et al. (2012), financial disadvantage may be a result of higher costs of living with disability, reduced opportunities for adults in the household to undertake paid work, the inadequacy of state benefits to offset this, and barriers to benefit take-up, however, they also state that these factors may not offer a full explanation. Despite being well-reported, the reasons for the association between poverty and childhood disability are not yet fully understood (Read et al. 2012). Emerson et al. (2010) make the three following suggestions:
- The presence of a child with a disability may increase the chances of a family descending into poverty and reduce the chances of them escaping from poverty
- Growing up in poverty is associated with increased exposure to a range of factors, such as poorer nutrition and housing, that may increase the risk for health conditions or impairments
- “Third factors”, such as poor parental health or parental intellectual disability, leading independently to an increased risk of both family poverty and child disability“https://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/esss-outlines/disability-poverty-transitions
Save Liverpool Women’s hospital Campaign would add that society is not constructed to respect disabled children or adults; our society is disablist.
We oppose governmental interference either to forbid abortion or to force it (either indirectly as through the two-child policy, or directly as through the damaging one-child policy in China until fairly recently). In a healthy society, women will have children if they so choose but policies can make it very hard, either way. Women have fewer children if they have better education, better rights and access to a decent job, health care and pensions. However, in “advanced” western counties, the birthrate rises if there is good provision for mothers and babies. Unicef studied advanced countries and recommended that ;
“Countries could improve their policies as follows:
� Provide statutory, nationwide paid leave to both mothers and fathers, where it is lacking.
� Remove barriers to the take-up of childcare leave, especially those faced by fathers.
� Enable all children to access high-quality, age-appropriate, affordable and accessible childcare centres
irrespective of their personal or family circumstances.
� Fill the gap, where it exists, between the end of parental leave and the start of affordable and
accessible childcare in centres so that children can continue their development without interruption.
� Ensure that mothers can breastfeed both before and after they return to work by providing such things as guaranteed breastfeeding breaks, places to pump and store milk and quality childcare nearby.
� Build the capacity of health professionals to provide breastfeeding support in hospitals and communities.
� Collect more and better data on all aspects of family-friendly policies so that programmes can be monitored, policies compared, and countries held accountable.”
In contrast, where there is a low standard of living, no social security and no pensions, children are the only way to secure a family’s long term economic well being, so the pressure on women to have many children remains.
In many countries, where austerity has hit hard, there is now a #birthstrike on where women are refusing to have babies until violence against women is stopped and until social-political climate issues are solved. Reproductive rights are at the core of politics and women’s voices must be heard. There is plenty of scope for campaigners who want to reduce the number of abortions, in working to reduce poverty, to remove women’s pay gaps, in working to improve child care, to reinstate Special Educational Needs provision, and in supporting foetal medicine research to prevent damage to babies in the womb. SLWH will support and join in such campaigns.
Let us fight to save some of the very much wanted babies who die at birth or before. Tommy’s, the stillbirth charity say 1 in every 250 pregnancies ends in a stillbirth in the UK. That’s 8 babies every day. The Uk (according to some the 4th wealthiest country in the world), is not even in the top ten countries for women to give birth safely. We were ranked 23rd. So if your heart is moved to protect the unborn there is work for you to do without interfering with a women’s right to choose.
Family size in the UK nowadays does depend more on the mother’s choice. There is greater access to contraception and abortion. In the 1920s and 1930s, very large Liverpool families of ten or and twelve children were not uncommon. Few of these large families saw all the children reaching adulthood. Childhood illnesses, poor maternity care and poor access to healthcare killed many. Post-war, the condom and the cap allowed many families to be much smaller and generally, those children that were born, thrived. In the 1950s the average number of births per mother was 4.7. It is now declining to 2.4 children per mother internationally and 1.7 in the UK. “The number of children women are having is continuing to decline, to a record low of 1.89, according to the Office for National Statistics. Its study compared two groups of women: those born in 1972, who are now in their 40s, with those born in 1945, who had an average of 2.19 children. The numbers of families in England and Wales with just one child grew from 14% to 18%. Childlessness also increased in women, from 10% to 18%.”
There are potential problems ahead for countries with low birth rates, as the number of older people needing care outstrips the young adults able to provide the care. If women are to feel safe and secure having children, this cruel system of unequal pay, poor child care, poor benefits, rationed healthcare and violence against women has got to be changed.
It is for the pregnant woman and her alone to decide if she continues a pregnancy.