Reproductive Rights Under Threat – next discussion topic 6th June

Posted on 26 May 2011 by


Our next feminist educational is on Monday 6th June, 8pm


With right-wing MPs trying to set more limits on access to abortion, and the government actively supporting anti-choice organisations, and promoting abstinence-based sex-education, reproductive rights and choice in the UK are under serious threat. How do we counter anti-choice groups’ arguments and misleading information? What’s the reality about abortion?


Here’s some links to get you thinking on the subject – entirely optional to read them. I hope it will serve as a general primer on the issues as well as advance reading for the discussion. As per usual, I’m afraid there are a lot, but please don’t be put off by that, pick & choose what interests you.

I’ve grouped the links as follows

  • Abortion facts
  • Latest threats to reproductive rights & choice
  • Reproductive rights, health & the importance of choice
  • Anti-choice campaigns & tactics
  • Reproductive & sexual coercion


Abortion – facts

Education for Choice – supporting young people’s right to informed choice on abortion

England and Wales: Abortion statistics 2010

“This year’s national abortion statistics show that there were 189,574 abortions in England and Wales in 2010, a very small rise of 0.3% from 2009; and that the age-standardised abortion rate was 17.5 per 1,000 women, the same as last year. These figures are in line with those of recent years and indicate that abortion continues to be a fact of life in the UK: one in three women will have an abortion over her lifetime, and access to abortion continues to be crucial to women’s ability to plan the timing and size of their families and to play a full role in society. … The 2010 abortion statistics show a welcome continuation of the trend towards abortions taking place earlier in pregnancy. Over three-quarters (76%) of NHS-funded abortions now take place at under 10 weeks’ gestation, compared to 74% in 2009 and half (51%) in 2002. … In 2010, approximately 9% of abortions took place in the second trimester of pregnancy – a similar proportion to previous years. … A recent piece of research by Kelly et al (2010) found that women undergoing second trimester abortions found surgical methods less painful and more acceptable than medical, with more than half of those undergoing medical reporting the experience to be worse than expected. The authors also noted that there was ‘urgent need to introduce novel training strategies’ if women were to be offered the method most suited to them. … less than 0.1% of all abortions take place after 24 weeks’ gestation – 147 abortions in total in 2010.”

Abortion Support Network (ASN) – a volunteer-run organisation that provides financial assistance, accommodation in volunteer homes, and confidential, non-judgmental information to women in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland who are travelling to England to access a safe and legal abortion.

24/5/11 – Thousands of Irish Women Traveling to Britain for Legal Abortions

“everyday 12 women travel from Ireland, where abortion is not legal, to Great Britain to obtain abortion services. In 2010, 4,402 Irish residents sought abortions in England or Wales. Niall Behan, Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) chief executive, clarified, ‘These figures serve to highlight yet again the hypocrisy of Ireland’s restrictive abortion law and clearly demonstrate the necessity for domestic-based abortion services in Ireland. Clients attending IFPA services for pregnancy counseling express frustration and anger that they have to leave this country to access health services they feel should be available to them at home. Women don’t want sympathy, they simply want access to the health services they need.'”

Abortion is not a mental health problem (Research by Royal College of Psychiatrists, published April 2011)

“The key point highlighted by the RCPsych’s review is that mental health outcomes from induced abortion or childbirth are associated with a woman’s mental health before abortion. In other words, if depression follows abortion it is because the woman has a pre-existing mental health condition, not because the abortion itself causes her to be depressed. ”

Misoprostol and the transformation of the ‘abortion pill’ (info about early medical abortion procedure and some obstacles women face in accessing it)


24/5/11 – Anti-abortion group drafted in as sexual health adviser to government

“A group which is opposed to abortion in all circumstances and favours an abstinence-based approach to sex education has been appointed to advise the government on sexual health. The Life organisation has been invited to join a new sexual health forum set up to replace the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV…. Life also became a founding member last week of a new Sex and Relationships Council, which was launched in parliament with the endorsement of the education secretary, Michael Gove. The council, which includes the Christian-run pro-abstinence group the Silver Ring Thing, says it aims to bring the voice of what it describes as “value-based, parent centred” sex and relationship education (SRE) providers to policy discussions on the future of SRE in schools…. Life, which provides its own pregnancy counselling services and describes itself as non-denominational, reacted to the [2010 abortion] figures by suggesting that a “cooling off” period before abortions could play a role in reducing the number being performed. Some secular organisations have been growing increasingly worried that Tory ministers are opening up government to the agendas of faith-based and pro-life groups. Some of the same groups have already been preparing to capitalise on the government’s big society agenda, which would potentially allow them to replace secular groups in terms of providing services. In Richmond, south-west London, the Catholic Children’s Society has taken over the £89,000 contract to provide advice to schoolchildren on matters including contraception and pregnancies. Another Christian-run charity, Care Confidential, is involved in providing crisis pregnancy advice under the auspices of Newham PCT in east London. Care’s education arm, Evaluate, was one of the founding members, alongside Life, of the Sex and Relationships Coucil.”

11/04/11 – Abortion: buckle up for a fight – The F-Word

“Nadine Dorries and Frank Field have tabled a series of amendments to the Health and Social Care bill. These amendments seek to chip away at abortion access. A leaked power point posted by Unity at Liberal Conspiracy demonstrates what we already knew: this is part of a long-game. The ultimate aim? Making all abortion illegal in this country. …back in 2008…Dorries and Field were once again the leading the attempts to roll back abortion rights. At that time, only 27 Tory MPs voted to support abortion access, and of course the makeup of Parliament has shifted since then. … many of these tactics are imported directly from the US, where abortion access and rights have been under much greater attack than in this country. The content of the amendments is also familiar for those who have followed developments in the US: for example, Dorries and Field want to force women to undergo mandatory ‘counselling’ before being able to have an abortion.”

19/4/11 – Abstain from abstinence please Dorries [This was passed by the House of Commons! But will need to go through further votes to become law so campaigning against it is urgent]

“MP Nadine Dorries has proposed a ten minute rule motion: ‘Ten minute Rule Motion SEX EDUCATION (REQUIRED CONTENT) That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes’…. Firstly, it seems bizarre to call for more sex education for girls specifically. For all those women (quite a large majority) who sometimes, often or always have sex with men, it would be quite useful if the men knew a thing or two too about positively choosing whether or not to have sex, what real consent looks like and how sex fits into a relationship. If we are (which I’m not) trying to promote abstinence, we really do have to talk to the boys too. After all it really takes two to abstain just as it takes two to tangle. Secondly, as with so many of Dorries’ bills, amendments and random proclamations – just scratch the surface and there is a dodgy premise in there. The dodgy premise is that SRE currently does not get young people to think about positively choosing not to have sex. In my experience sex educators are always talking about: a) the fact that not having sex is the best way to guarantee you won’t get pregnant b)the importance of feeling ready for sex, c) how unacceptable it is to pressure someone into sex d) how eminently sensible and reasonable it can be to choose not to have sex…etc”

5/5/11 Up The Junction – (Very informative analysis of Dorries’ campaign for abstinence sex education for girls, and backing that Nadine Dorries has from Christian anti-choice organisations in the USA):

6/4/11 The hidden agenda behind Dorries’ “Right to Know” campaign:

Finally, Nadine Dorries had the nerve to argue that abstinence education would reduce sexual abuse – yes, she really did!

“Society is so over-sexualised that I don’t think people realise that if we did empower this [abstinence] message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we’d probably have less sex abuse.”


First up, some great articles arguing why reproductive choice is fundamental and tackling some common anti-abortion arguments:

“I’m doing this to demystify abortion” – woman who blogged & tweeted about her abortion

Basic Female Reproductive Biology

Effects of Pregnancy Good resource for challenging idea that pregnancy is a simple option

“a partial [but very loooong!] list of the physical effects and risks of pregnancy. This list does not include the many non-physical effects and risks a woman faces in reproducing, such as the economic investment of work interruptions from pregnancy and breastfeeding, or time lost from career and other opportunity costs involved in pregnancy and later child rearing (mothers comprise 90+% of primary parents), or the emotional trauma of problem pregnancies, or the numerous economic and lifestyle repercussions that pregnancy and motherhood will have on the remainder of a mother’s life.

19/4/07 – BBC:  Late abortions reasons revealed 

“Southampton and Kent University experts asked 883 women why they had abortions in the second trimester – between 13 and 24 weeks into the pregnancy. Around 11% of abortions take place after the 12th week of pregnancy. Just over 1% of those occur after a woman is 20 weeks pregnant…. This study, which allowed women to give more than one reason for opting to have a late abortion, found women had not realised they were pregnant for two main reasons. Just under 40% of women had not realised they were pregnant because they had irregular periods. Another 31% had been using contraception… 41% said they had taken time to come to a decision about whether or not to have an abortion…. 30% had simply not done anything once they suspected they were pregnant, with many waiting weeks to do a pregnancy test. … 42 per cent said they had waited more than 2 weeks between requesting and having an abortion, and 23% waited more than 3 weeks”

Pill does not cure gender inequality (about maternal mortality) – nb “pill” here refers to medical care, not specficially contraception

“… despite sustained global campaigning efforts there has been little progress on the Millennium Development Goal to reduce maternal deaths by 75% by 2015. … one thing that was not mentioned, and only alluded to by reference to a ‘continuum of care’, is the impact of the status of women, views on female sexuality and reproductive autonomy which arguably are greater indicators of maternal death than skilled birth attendants (although in fact these things are inextricably linked)…. To reduce maternal deaths, women need to get married and have kids later, have less children therefore use family planning, be well nourished and free from disease, have access to primary healthcare as well as emergency obstetric care (which is culturally appropriate and in their language), have access to safe and legal abortion, and be educated in their rights, their right to healthcare, their right to information and – very simply – have the right and ability to say no or yes to sex and insist on condom/contraceptive use. Drug treatment of post-partum haemorrhage or sepsis may fit nicely into our drug delivery programmes, work well with our partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, and definitely help save lives. But it is a drop in the ocean without women themselves having bodily integrity.”

19/4/11 – Shakesville: Number of the Day 

“99%: The percentage of US women, who have ever been sexually active, who ‘have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning.’ ‘Contraceptive use by Catholics and Evangelicals—including those who attend religious services most frequently—is the norm, according to a new Guttmacher report (pdf). This finding confirms that policies making contraceptives more affordable and easier to use reflect the needs and desires of the vast majority of U.S. women and their partners, regardless of their religious beliefs.’ ”

Linked report:


Info about “crisis” pregancy advice centres that have anti-choice agendas:

Here’s an example of a crisis pregnancy centre in the UK – it’s quite difficult to spot at first glance that its aim is to steer women away from choosing abortion:

Babies & Bibles – (Undercover report on “crisis pregnancy centres” in the USA – anti-abortion fronts providing free pregnancy tests, false medical information, and preach to women who come in)

“This is a licensed medical clinic. It’s usually safe to assume that medical clinics provide medical care. But if you have the capacity to bear children, those rules apparently don’t apply. If a cancer clinic were run as a Christian Scientist front there would be anger. There would be disgust. It would be shut down. But the distraught woman in dire circumstances — “a killer who in this case is the girl” — being routinely defrauded because she “has no right to information” has gone unnoticed by the general public.”

Shock tactics: Anti-abortion campaigners are being allowed into schools to present their arguments to teenagers, and are making converts. But what about the facts? (Long, but highly recommended, lots of myth-busting about abortion and about tactics used by anti-choice organisations who talk to young people in schools – a must read. Plus, did you know? there is only one organisation providing pro-choice education outreach in schools, and that only in London – Education for Choice, linked above).

‘a lie is not the other side of an argument, it’s just a lie’. Arguing for young people not to be misled by anti-choice education:

“If a student leaves my classroom believing that abortion is wrong, that is completely fine. There is no objective criteria by which I can say to that student abortion is right or abortion is wrong, it’s clearly a matter of personal opinion and values. However, if a student of mine leaves the classroom believing that abortion will make her infertile, that is misinformation and I have failed as an educator. ”

Mis-Illustrating Abortion

“Most news stories about abortion… illustrate their article with an image of a woman with an unambiguously pregnant belly. The disconnect between the reality (90% of abortions occur in the 1st trimester) and the imagery (of women who are in their 3rd) implies that many abortions are occurring much later than they are.”

Abortion-related Stock Photos for Media Use [include images of pregnancy tests, women looking at pregnancy tests]

“How many times have you seen an article about abortion that is accompanied by a stock photo of a pregnant woman obviously in the third trimester? Such photos are inaccurate and inappropriate. Portraying a heavily pregnant woman in the context of abortion simply feeds the anti-abortion myth that women routinely have abortions right up to the 9th month of pregnancy. Pairing such a picture with an article on abortion may even directly contradict the facts and arguments in the piece.”

BBC 20/4/11 – Department of Health has lost a court battle to keep secret some details on abortion statistics. [note: “confidential” or “private” would be a more accurate word than “secret”]

“The court case follows an application by an anti-abortion group, the ProLife Alliance, for the publication of all data on abortion in England and Wales…. The case dates back nearly a decade, to the release of statistics on late abortions carried out in 2001. … Up until 2003 the Department of Health published statistics on these late abortions, even when only one or two cases were involved. But the publication of the figures in 2002 sparked an outcry when it became clear that one termination was carried out on a baby with a cleft lip and palate. … By 2004, using information now in the public domain, journalists discovered the identity of one of the doctors involved in the abortion. That led to fears that the identity of the patient could also be revealed. … Reflecting that concern, the Department of Health had already decided in 2003 it would no longer reveal detailed information on late abortions where the number of terminations involving certain medical conditions was less than 10. ”

Response by ARC (Antenatal Results and Choices – the only national charity which provides non-directive support and information to expectant and bereaved parents throughout and after the antenatal screening and testing process) to that ruling

  “Women are ending their pregnancy at a stage when they have often prepared practically and emotionally for the birth of their baby. They enter this decision knowing it is life-changing and need to feel entirely confident that their privacy and confidentiality is protected. In our experience clinicians take their legal responsibility very seriously in what are challenging circumstances for them too. They need to be able to provide sensitive care to parents without fear of retribution on a personal level from anti-abortionists..”

USA – Laws Affecting Reproductive Health and Rights: Trends in the First Quarter of 2011 

“To date, legislators have introduced 916 measures related to reproductive health and rights in the 49 legislatures that have convened their regular sessions. (Louisiana’s legislature will not convene until late April.) By the end of March, seven states had enacted 15 new laws on these issues, including provisions that:

  • * expand the pre-abortion waiting period requirement in South Dakota to make it more onerous than that in any other state, by extending the time from 24 hours to 72 hours and requiring women to obtain counseling from a crisis pregnancy center in the interim;
  • * expand the abortion counseling requirement in South Dakota to mandate that counseling be provided in-person by the physician who will perform the abortion and that counseling include information published after 1972 on all the risk factors related to abortion complications, even if the data are scientifically flawed;
  • * require the health departments in Utah and Virginia to develop new regulations governing abortion clinics;
  • * revise the Utah abortion refusal clause to allow any hospital employee to refuse to “participate in any way” in an abortion;
  • * limit abortion coverage in all private health plans in Utah, including plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange; and
  • * revise the Mississippi sex education law to require all school districts to provide abstinence-only sex education while permitting discussion of contraception only with prior approval from the state.”

On the extreme tactics of anti-abortion activists in the USA

“on the frontlines of the abortion fight, things look very different. When Angie Jackson live-blogged her abortion last year to demystify the process, the response was not universally civil, to put it politely. Clinics get bomb threats, which aren’t exactly civil. Women seeking abortions at those clinics frequently need escorts to navigate screaming picketers, who aren’t inclined toward civility. I am hardly a full-time reproductive justice advocate, yet my inbox—and, I imagine, the inboxes of most writers and activists who dedicate any time at all to reproductive issues—receives missives that I will also charitably describe as less than civil, not that I don’t appreciate pictures of bloody fetuses as much as the next steampunk abortion robot. The murder of Dr. George Tiller was not civil; it was an act of terrorism committed by a terrorist as part of one of the most brazen, unapologetic terrorist campaigns in America, its co-ordination and orchestration frequently done right out in the open—at meetings, on websites, in email alerts.”

More about anti-choice tactics in the USA (and about the Democrats failing to defend reproductive rights)

“The people who use violent rhetoric, and violence, bank on that response. They provoke until Something Bad Happens, and they count on their opponents’ decency, which they exploit for maximum gain. In the void of noise where our volatile national abortion debate used to be, there is the slow but certain erosion of women’s bodily autonomy.”


26/1/10 Teens Susceptible to Reproductive Coercion – Newsweek

“[Elizabeth] Miller published a study in the journal Contraception detailing “reproductive coercion,” when the male partner pressures the other, through verbal threats, physical aggression, or birth-control sabotage, to become pregnant. According to Miller’s research, about a third of women reporting partner violence experienced reproductive coercion, as did 15 percent of women who had never reported violence. Overall, rates of reproductive coercion among family-planning-clinic patients are suprisingly high: about one in five women report their partner having attempted to coerce them into pregnancy. “What we’re seeing is that, in the larger scheme of violence against women and girls, it is another way to maintain control,” says Miller, who studied 1,300 female patients culled from five family-planning clinics in Northern California. “You have guys telling their partners, ‘I can do this because I’m in control’ or ‘I want to know that I can have you forever.’ ”

7/4/10 – New Study Offers Further Evidence of Link Between Domestic Violence & Reproductive Coercion/Control – (summary of & link to pdf of Guttmacher Institute study)

“Reproductive control – when a partner imposes his reproductive intentions through intimidation, threats or actual violence – is a common problem for women who experience intimate partner violence, according to a new study released by the Guttmacher Institute on April 6. Three in four respondents (74 percent) in the new study – of 71 domestic violence victims seeking services at a family planning clinic, an abortion clinic and a domestic violence shelter – reported that their partners had threatened to get them pregnant, forced them to have unprotected sex, sabotaged or interfered with their contraception, threatened them with sexual intercourse, tried to control the outcome of their pregnancies if they became pregnant, or in other ways tried to coerce their reproductive outcomes. These abusive behaviors can lead to unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and a host of other problems.”

CWASU – A Missing Link? An Exploratory Study of the Connections Between Non-Consensual Sex and Teenage Pregnancy (2010) – link to pdf of full study

“Teenage pregnancy has been a policy priority traversing health, education and crime agendas at national and local levels for a decade. In 1999 a twin track strategy for England and Wales was introduced that aimed to halve teenage conception rates among under 18s by 2010, whilst simultaneously reducing social exclusion among teenage parents (SEU, 1999). Although the 1999 strategy identifies sexual abuse as a risk factor for teenage conception, this link is not evident in annual reports and evaluations of the strategy. Moreover, whether or not teenage pregnancies are a result of non-consensual sex has yet to be specifically addressed in the substantial UK evidence base on risk factors, conducive contexts, interventions and outcomes. That said, international research findings demonstrate connections between sexual abuse, coercion and intimate partner violence and teenage conception rates. …This report presents findings from the first contemporary UK study to focus on this association. ”

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