Tag Archives: reproduction

Fourth-wavers: We still need to fight for abortion.

I’ve had an abortion. Several women I know have had an abortion. Some have had more than one and one friend has had four.

With one in three women having an abortion in their lifetime, why is it that we still can’t talk about it?

I made short film, Break the Taboo, because the shame that people expected me to feel when I mention having an abortion – quite frankly – filled me with frustration.

People would push me to show remorse with sympathetic funeral-like comments whilst looking at me as though I’m a slut who has just lost an arm to leprosy. My usual response is: I’m not sorry.

It’s a circumstance that I wish I had not encountered, but I made the right decision to have a termination. Without it I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t have met and be engaged to the most wonderful man. I wouldn’t be working in a career I love. I wouldn’t be surrounded by the loveliest, warmest friends.

Where would I be? Well, taking into account where I was at the time of the abortion, I would probably be single, with no career and no friends that I can truly connect with. Lonely and struggling is probably where I would be.

91 percent of women who have an abortion do so within thirteen weeks and the majority of us chose an abortion not due to some tragic foetal abnormality, not because of rape, and not because our life is in danger. Our stories are neither exciting nor dramatic; they are everyday and sometimes even a little dull.

We choose to have an abortion because the time isn’t right, we want to focus on our career, our financial circumstances are difficult, or because (shock, horror) we just don’t want a child. As a result we continued to be ridiculed and victimized for choosing our future over our fetus.

As someone on Guardian comments put it: “once a woman consents to have sex, she consents to being pregnant.” This made me laugh aloud, whilst simultaneously wailing in fear of society.

When attitudes like this exist, why don’t us feminists speak out louder and tell the world that women have the right to choose? Why isn’t abortion firmly on the fourth waves agenda?

When Big Brother wannabe, Josie Cunningham, chose an abortion in order to pursue her career the social media erupted with hate. She received an avalanche of violent threats that would make a Guantanamo Bay guard take notes.

The right to an abortion is a basic human right that Britain has signed-up to. The 1967 Abortion Act has saved countless women’s lives from backstreet abortions. Why? Because whether abortion is legal or not, the demand will always be there.

Just yesterday I met a woman who had a backstreet abortion in 1965. She told me that ‘everyone had one’ and couldn’t recall anyone who had regretted it. It was a life-threatening procedure that around 40 women a year died from in the UK. For all those who mourn those aborted foetus’, who mourns the women so desperate that they risk death?

It’s time we stopped judging those who terminate their pregnancies and talked about their reasons for wanting an abortion by looking at a woman’s circumstance in its individuality. It’s time at we genuinely accept that a woman has a right to decide what her future looks like. Not the strangers who threatened to throw acid in Ms Cunningham’s face, or told her she should die.

When I speak about my abortion people are shocked because I’m not ashamed.

When Emily Letts posted a video of her experience online she received criticism because she is also unashamed. She shared her story to help make this horrible process easier to suffer which is in itself controversial – abortion mustn’t be an ‘easy’ experience. It must be a terrible and painful procedure to make women ‘learn their lesson’. Yet there’s no evidence that speaking about abortion and making the process more bearable will encourage more abortions.

We need to fight for abortion, because women’s reproductive rights globally are rolling backwards. It’s a devastating scenario that fills me with fear for women now and our future generations.

We need to fight for abortion to let the rest of the world know that, for 51 percent of the population, it is a health procedure and a decision that should be ours to take.

We need to fight for abortion, to tell women that they should not be ashamed. That one in three of us will have one in our lifetime, and it’s OK.

Let’s fight for abortion.

Melanie is a NGO-worker, feminist & film-maker. Follow her on twitter @51percentorg

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The march backwards: Women’s sexual & reproductive rights at risk

Thilde Knudsen is head of Marie Stopes International’s Europe office.

Spain is about to criminalise abortion; politicians in the UK repeatedly attempt to reduce the 24-week limit; and last week in Brussels, a Parliamentary hearing discussed a European Citizens’ initiative that, if successful, would block European Commission (EC) development funding for maternal health.

Working for sexual and reproductive health charity, Marie Stopes International, I know that every day 800 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, and 99% of these women are from the developing world. This is why the international community identified maternal health as one of the eight Millennium Development Goals and why the European Union (EU) apportions development funding to maternal health each year.

But the ‘One of Us’ initiative, which aims to block EC funding for any activities that involve the destruction of the human embryo, would adversely affect development aid to maternal health projects: projects that enable women in developing countries to make life-saving choices over their fertility; projects that help young women delay pregnancy until they are physically developed to safely deliver; and projects that give mothers time to recover before giving birth to their next child.

Data proves that the initiative is sadly misguided. Restricting safe abortions through similar interventions like the global gag policy in America does not lead to lower abortion rates, it just pushes it underground. The only proven way to reduce the number of abortions is through access to modern contraception and sexuality education, both of which could be adversely affected by the ‘One of Us’ initiative.

Today, it is estimated that roughly half of all women living in developing countries do not have access to adequate basic maternal health care and that 220 million have an unmet need for family planning. The consequences of this include almost 300,000 preventable maternal deaths every year, millions of women affected by debilitating injury such as obstetric fistula, and the perpetuation of poverty and disempowerment as women are unable to delay childbearing or to choose their family size. This is why continued EU support for maternal health and family planning is essential.

The EC currently spends an estimated €121.5 million per year on maternal health and family planning – equivalent to approximately 1.3% of the funding gap to meet the unmet need for maternal health and family planning.

Thankfully, ‘One of Us’ is unlikely to achieve its aims. The initiative, which celebrated its 1.8 million signatures with much fanfare, is in reality just over a quarter of one percent of the population of Europe. Critics have also pointed out that the way European Citizen initiatives are structured give an advantage to large organisations, like the Catholic Church, to mobilise their supporters.

However, this is not a green light for complacency. On the contrary, it should be a warning to everyone who believes in women’s rights that we have been silent too long. In Europe women are often deemed to have achieved equal rights. Since the 60s – when women’s liberation movements stood up and called for sweeping changes to access to equal pay, divorce and abortion – the passionate demonstrations, speeches and rallies have gradually gone quiet, and today many young women would never dream of calling themselves a feminist.

Yet our complacency is proving to be very dangerous, as the hard-won rights our mothers fought for are slowly being chipped away. Who would have predicted that Spain would be bringing in a draconian bill to end women’s rights to safe abortion, making it one of the most restrictive countries in Europe? If Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has his way, abortion will be illegal except in the case of rape or when there’s a risk to the physical and mental health of the mother, and women could soon be resorting to the same dangerous methods they relied on decades ago: seeking out backstreet abortions or attempting to end the pregnancy themselves.

Just outside Europe’s borders in Turkey, where abortion was legalised in 1983 because of the high numbers of deaths by backstreet abortions, a new law just passed that health professionals and human rights activists have warned will make it impossible for women in the country to gain access to legal abortions.

While movements like ‘One of Us’ are attempting to erode women’s rights and mislead European citizens about the importance and value of our development assistance and maternal healthcare, we need to make our voices heard and Make Women Matter. There is an urgent need for the global community to work together in meeting the full funding gap, in order to save and transform the lives of millions who live in poverty. Europe must stand for access to the whole range of sexual and reproductive services – including access to safe abortion when needed – here at home in Europe, and in partnership with other governments around the world.

Marie Stopes International provides millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women with quality family planning and reproductive healthcare. It has been delivering contraception, safe abortion, and mother and baby care for over thirty years and operates in over 40 countries around the world. By providing high quality services where they are needed the most, it prevents unnecessary deaths and makes a sustainable impact on the lives of millions of people every year.

Photo: Marie Stopes International’s work in India

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Manifesto: Doctors of the World campaign for women to be “Names not Numbers”

Doctors of the World provides essential medical care to excluded people at home and abroad while fighting for equal access to healthcare worldwide. We are part of the Medecins du Monde global network, which delivers over 300 projects in more than 70 countries.

Whether it’s providing mental healthcare to Syrian refugees, vaccinating children in Mali, or delivering babies in the DRC we meet the health needs of vulnerable people across the planet. And where possible, we share our skills and training locally so communities stay strong in the long term. We also work with the most marginalised to report on violence, injustice and healthcare barriers wherever we see them.

Recently…

Our work with women in the UK

  • We run a clinic and advocacy programme in east London staffed by volunteers who provide care to excluded people such as vulnerable migrants, sex workers and people with no fixed address.
  • We have a team of doctors, nurses, and support workers who endeavour to help everyone who comes to see us with medical care, information and practical support.
  • We see heavily pregnant women who have received no antenatal care and children who have been denied basic healthcare after being de-registered by a GP.
  • We help these women find the care they deserve with GP’s and hospitals, ensuring that they are not at risk of further harm.

Our work with women overseas

  • Women and children living in developing countries lack access to obstetric healthcare services, resulting in high rates of morbidity and mortality.
  • Many of Doctors of the World’s women and child health programmes are based in rural areas, where affordable pre and post-natal health services are unavailable.
  • Globally, over 300,000 women die every year during pregnancy or childbirth, with 56% of these in sub-Saharan Africa. Most maternal and infant deaths are caused by infections that could have been easily prevented.
  • Doctors of the World works to combat high rates of maternal and infant mortality by improving access to basic healthcare services in areas where women and children have no means of receiving care.

Women’s right to choose

  • We support the universal access to modern methods of contraception and the abolition of all legislative barriers which limit it, and access to quality sexual and reproductive health services that are underpinned by a woman’s right to choose.
  • We believe that it is every woman’s right to choose to access safe, legal abortion services by decriminalising terminations and reducing unsafe abortion-related deaths and complications.
  • We recognize that 300,000 women die every year from complications during pregnancy or unsafe abortions, which could be avoided through straightforward access to family planning.
  • We have started an advocacy campaign, Names not Numbers, to raise awareness of the legislative changes necessary to prevent further senseless deaths.
  • We consider that governments should put the following in place to protect women’s health and their right to choose:
      1. To guarantee universal access to contraceptive methods
      2. To consider illegal abortion as a public health issue
      3. To cater for post-abortion complications

Find out more at doctorsoftheworld.org.uk or follow @DOTW_UK

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Happy 40th Birthday, free contraception!

From 1 April 1974 all contraceptive advice and supplies became free on the NHS, and available to all women. 40 years on, bpas (the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) celebrate the anniversary of free contraception in the UK and call for the next step forward.

The contraceptive pill was first licensed in 1961, yet initially restricted to those deemed wise enough to use it, and worthy of its privileges – those bastions of moral responsibility who are older married women. So hoorah for the less celebrated year of 1974, when contraception became free of charge for all women, regardless of age or marital status.

It’s hard to think of a development which has brought about such a monumental change in women’s lives, their role in society, and their relationships with men as free access to contraception.

The Pill enabled women to take control of their biology. Family sizes shrunk, motherhood was delayed, and women began to occupy those spaces that had previously been the sole domain of their male counterparts. Alongside access to safe, legal abortion, women could start to make genuine reproductive choices.

Yet while we can celebrate the 40th anniversary of free access to this revolutionary pill, this birthday is also the occasion to reflect on what we want from contraception over the next four decades – and ideally before we reach the last half of the 21st Century.

We should be asking why we are not seeing the investment, effort or drive to develop new methods of contraception that actually meet women’s needs. There seems to be a prevailing sense of “job done” when it comes to contraception, and ongoing barriers to technological advances in this field. While we have seen a few new methods enter the market over the last decade of so, these are by and large variations on the dose and delivery of the same medication.

Hormonal contraception should be celebrated for the huge advances it has brought, but it’s not for everyone. While there are women who will swear by their contraceptive implant, there are others who find themselves begging the doctor to remove it. We need new methods
without the side effects such as irregular bleeding, weight gain, nausea or lower libido. We need a greater choice of non-hormonal methods for those women who do not wish to use hormones or who cannot.

We need methods better suited to the reality of women’s lives and an acceptance that some women don’t want to use barrier methods like condoms or diaghrams but also don’t feel they are having sex regularly enough to warrant remembering a daily pill or having a long acting IUD or implant inserted. A pericoital pill, which could be taken at the time of sex, would represent a huge breakthrough for those women.

And we need to take politics out of pills. Researchers have noted that one of the major barriers to contraceptive development is the fear of controversy – so, for example, it would be possible to create a monthly pill that would either stop a fertilised egg implanting or detach it from the lining of the womb, yet concerns about the reactions from those who would see this as an abortion have put the kybosh on its development. Some women may well have their own personal position on whether this method is right for them – but shouldn’t that be their choice to make?

And lastly, we need methods for men. Men need something in between the two extremes of condoms and vasectomies, and the argument that most women wouldn’t trust men with their birth control is insulting to the many men who we know are keen to share the burden of contraception with their partner.

So hooray for free contraception. Thank you 1974. But it’s 2014 now – and women deserve more.

bpas is a reproductive healthcare charity, providing counselling and abortion care, contraception and STI testing on a not-for-profit basis. Follow them @bpas1968

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London Feminist Film Festival: Body Politics

Alisha Rouse attended last week’s London Feminist Film Festival at the Hackney Picturehouse for us. In the first of three short blog posts, she reports back on the opening session, Body Politics.

It’s been 40 years since Our Bodies, Ourselves came out and caused a right raucous by suggesting that body image, transgender issues and abortion were things women could claim ownership of.

Down here in the 21st century, and the Sunday before last, in fact, ‘Body Politics’ was the premiere session at the second ever London Feminist Film Festival.

A great, week-long film fest based at the Hackney Picturehouse, the opening session featured three feminist documentaries dealing with women’s ownership and power over their bodies.

The Cut was a deeply upsetting film documenting FGM in east Africa, where girls are circumcised from as young as six. FGM is an extreme but very real example of body politics for women living in these communities, and for many women in our own.

The politics of body ownership are still hugely up for debate. More women, like Texan senator Wendy Davis, are standing up (albeit not for as long as Wendy did, bless her) and trying to gain the most basic rights to self-determine the life of their torso and its inners.

I’ve asked some of my friends about this, and as expected, the responses were pleasing and generic.

“So, who owns a woman’s body?”

“The woman, obviously!”

“Do you think a woman has a right to choose what happens with her body?”

“Of course!”

“Good! Well done, right thinking individual.”

“No problem, Alisha!”

But when push comes to sexist shove, the packaging of body politics may have changed, but the product is just the same. While the majority of right-thinking men, women and politicians (a breed of their own) consistently state that a woman has the right to govern her own body, it’s rare that insinuations of male or societal ownership don’t come creeping through.

Still Fighting: The Story of Clinic Escorts showed women and men abusing people on their way into abortion clinics in America – and in liberal-thinking New York state, no less.

In the style of Shirley Phelps and the far-holier-than-thou Westboro Baptist Church, there were placards and Hail Marys, as pretty amazing volunteers escorted women into the clinic, surrounded by vile and unfaltering hatred.

Being in a north-eastern state, the documentary was even more frightening. With Davis filibustering for what felt like days to make sure abortions in Texas weren’t restricted, while still refusing to mention the A word in her political leaflets, the US seem to have no visible heroes for the self-determination of women’s bodies, except these amazing ladies in hi-visibility jackets.

Back in the UK, Blank Canvas, a short but sweet documentary, gave us all hope. A woman suffering from cancer and going through chemotherapy, opted to henna her bald head rather than getting a wig, using the canvas as self-expression: expression that she needn’t pretend all is fine; needn’t look a way that makes non-sufferers feel more comfortable; and needn’t suffer from the lack of control cancer gives you over your body.

She took control, and we all need to learn something from that.

Alisha Rouse is a Newspaper Journalism MA student at City University, desperately missing the north and praying for a job. Find out more @alisharouse.

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Taboo corner

Taboo Corner: response

Taboo Corner is a small space on Feminist Times for women to be open about uncomfortable thoughts they have and the personal reasons behind them, helping uncover disconcerting female truths that are normally repressed and opening them up for honest debate. Feminist Times is different to other magazines in that it won’t airbrush your frown lines or your emotions… Submit your own Taboo Corner piece in no more than 300 words: editorial@feministtimes.com 

The response to our first Taboo Corner has been overwhelming.  

The whole point of being a crowd-funded membership organisation is that we listen to our members and respond to feedback. Our members have been in touch and said that this subject was unsuitable for Taboo Corner. We’ve taken that on board and removed the piece. We will be commissioning a response from one of the many people who’ve been in touch with us.

To clarify, Feminist Times was absolutely not condoning forced sterilisation, which our whole team considers violence against women. We sought some of our readers’ most shocking thoughts and feelings that clash with their feminist politics, to highlight controversial but personal inner battles between deeply held feminist principles and reactive emotions based on an intimate experience. In this instance, we got it wrong and we want to apologise.

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