Today’s guest blogpost is from Lucy V Hay, a novelist, script editor and blogger who has just written a novel exploring one young woman’s pregnancy decision making process. She shares her insight on fictional accounts of abortion.
I’m grateful to live somewhere that allows for a woman’s right to choose, but abortion is frequently depicted in a negative light by movies and television. This Slate article sheds some light on the offenders, but does not, in my opinion, give a viable reason as to why this is so often the case.
As well as being the author of a pro-choice novel, The Decision: Lizzie's Story, I'm a script editor for movies, so hopefully I can offer an explanation – and though it may surprise some progressives, it’s not that the people creating those movies or television shows necessarily disagree with abortion!
When learning how to create fiction, the first thing any wannabe writer is taught is that, “drama is conflict”. In other words, a writer needs to create the worst problems for his/her characters that s/he can; it is overcoming those problems that make an audience relate to that character and invest in the character’s journey. So, if a story about abortion is to have the “most” conflict it can, obviously it will include death.
Simple, eh? But this is also where it gets complicated …
… 1 in 3 women in the UK will have an abortion at some point in their lives. What’s more, the likelihood of dying from having a legal abortion is extremely low. In fact, the risk of death from childbirth is 14 times higher than for abortion. So for starters, a story has potentially up to a third of its female audience going, “Eh? That just wouldn't happen!” Not. Good.
Secondly, though an individual movie or TV show may feature a death from an unsafe abortion (for example, if it was set in a time or place where abortion was illegal or inaccessible, like in the film Vera Drake), the sheer lack of variety in the representation of abortion in the media becomes problematic. It’s worth remembering, lots of people get their information from fiction … That’s why soap operas carry the famous: “If you have been affected by any of the storylines …” bit at the end of the show, alongside helpline numbers.
So if writers and producers shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s just a story!”, they are right. In isolation, their “killer abortion” story is just a story.
But all those “killer abortion” stories put together? A statement.
Working with writers, I am always at pains to point out we must be varied in our depictions of characters and situations and the “killer abortion” is no different. We are extremely lucky that safe abortion is a reality in Great Britain and that our friends, daughters, sisters and mothers have the right to bodily autonomy. But it’s also a sad reality that very few stories reflect this: instead, whether the writers and producers believe in the pro-choice message or not, they go for the lazy and stereotypical notion that “abortion kills” or is ‘dangerous’ in other ways (such as leading to infertility). It’s time to slay the “killer abortion” story and seek out representations that empower female characters – and the audience watching them.
Thursday, 27 February 2014
Tuesday, 11 February 2014
EFC is pleased to be able to release the first in-depth investigation of ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centres’ (CPCs) in the UK. Following on from today's reports of two pregnancy counselling centres in London providing biased and inaccurate information we are able to provide further information.
CPCs are organisations independent of the NHS which provide pregnancy counselling – over half also provide sex and relationships education in schools. They are often run by charities which are outwardly anti-abortion or which have ties to anti-abortion organisations. The tactics of CPCs in the U.S have been documented by groups like NARAL, but this is the first full-scale investigation of CPCs operating in the UK.
EFC has identified 135 CPCs in the UK. Just under a quarter of these centres (33) were visited by volunteer mystery shoppers and background research into the remaining CPCs and their affiliations was also carried out.
Unfortunately the majority of CPCs visited were found to be giving misinformation about abortion and/or biased, unethical and unprofessional counselling methods. We are particularly concerned that many of these centres specifically market their services to young women. To give you an example, here are some quotes from the centres visited:
“The only other thing that has been reported with quite strong evidence is the increase in the possibility of breast cancer following termination of pregnancy” Oxford Care Centre (LIFE)
“There’s more risk of infertility from termination that there is from giving birth...some reports will say as low as 1% chance of infertility from termination and some will say as high as 25%” Central London Women’s Centre (Good Counsel Network)
“I do believe that God gives the gift of a baby” Reading Lifeline (Care Confidential)
“The other thing with abortion is the psychological effect of post abortion trauma.. of... the grieving that you lost, ‘cause you know at the moment for some girls it seems like a very quick option, you know and it’s a half day you go in, you’re out but you are left with the emotional turmoil of what you’ve done” Stillwaters Pregnancy Crisis Centre (Care Confidential)
Regular readers of our blog will know that abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer, infertility or mental health problems. These ‘risks’ have all been discounted by medical professionals and to propose them as serious factors to consider in the decision making process inhibits someone’s ability to make an informed choice about their pregnancy. It is part of the anti-abortion agenda that seeks to limit choice under the guise of offering women support.
Centres run by Care Confidential and Life do so under the name of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) which has a strict code of ethical guidelines for counsellors to follow. The directive, biased counselling offered in some CPCs cannot be considered good practice. Prominent psychotherapist Phillip Hodson states:
EFC has sent an official complaint to the BACP and is awaiting a response.
More worrying still, Care Confidential is the primary service linked to on the front page of the NHS choices website about abortion. The organisation also claims to provide pregnancy counselling in five women's prisons. When the support Care Confidential offer is as sporadic and unreliable as our investigation has found it to be, it is far from acceptable for the NHS to offer their services to people looking for support.
Have a read of the report and watch this space for further developments.
Wednesday, 15 January 2014
Back in September, we wrote a blog in response to the Telegraph’s ‘exposé’ of sex-selective abortion in the UK. Today, the Independent has launched its own campaign to raise awareness of "the illegal abortion of female foetuses" with a series of articles headed ‘The Lost Girls’.
Firstly, as before, we take issue with the claim that sex-selective abortion is ‘illegal’. Under the 1967 Abortion Act an abortion is legal if two doctors agree, in good faith, that the continuation of the pregnancy would involve more risk to the woman’s mental or physical health than having an abortion. Therefore, if a doctor considers a woman’s individual circumstances and believes that ending the pregnancy would be better for her health and well-being he or she can permit the abortion to take place. One of the Independent's articles recognises some of the potential risks for a woman in this predicament:
“Karma Nirvana, based in Leeds, said it had dealt with a woman brought from Pakistan after marrying her British husband, who then underwent fertility treatment to become pregnant with a boy after she gave birth to two daughters. She had been physically and emotionally abused by her spouse and inlaws over her failure to produce a son”.
The law permits a woman who has become pregnant as a result of rape to have an abortion if she feels it would negatively affect her to have the child, even though ‘rape’ is not a direct ground for abortion in the UK. Sex-selection falls under the same criteria – is the woman’s mental or physical health at risk if she is forced to continue with the pregnancy? (It's also worth noting that legal abortion is statistically safer than childbirth, some doctors would therefore always authorise a requested abortion on health grounds).
We haven’t seen the original data from which the Independent draws its evidence, so won’t comment on the claim that;
“The practice of sex-selective abortion is now so commonplace that it has affected the natural 50:50 balance of boys to girls within some immigrant groups and has led to the “disappearance” of between 1,400 and 4,700 females from the national census records of England and Wales”
The question is, if there is evidence of sex-selective abortion happening in the UK (albeit on an extremely small scale) what is to be done about this?
Anti-choice groups use the ‘evidence’ (from a newspaper, not a medical body) in an attempt to shore up their belief that ALL abortions should be banned. SPUC claims that sex-selective abortion "demonstrates how legalising abortion for ‘hard cases’ is so easily abused" and Life states:“We object to all direct abortion on principle, but to end a child's life because they are the 'wrong' sex seems particularly unjust.”
The ‘hook’ of sex-selective abortion is being used by these groups to argue that there should be no legal access to abortion. It feeds into anti-choice myths that women cannot be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies.
We reject the co-option of feminist rhetoric by these groups, feigning concern about women’s rights when in fact they seek to curtail them. It’s crucial that all those dedicated to protecting human rights, and improving reproductive health and gender equality pay attention to the underlying thrust of these arguments about sex-selective abortion. In countries where sex-selective abortion is a reality, the answer is not to restrict abortion access. Unfortunately gender discrimination is ingrained in all societies and we have a lot of work to do to improve the status of women the world over. Refusing them ultrasounds or reproductive care is not the way to do this. Reproductive rights groups, alongside women's rights organisations, will continue to campaign for improved education and material conditions for women, to tackle male violence and discrimination in all forms.
Posted by Education For Choice at 12:28
Friday, 27 December 2013
Yes, we're still officially on holiday, but we just couldn't resist commenting on the recent 'OpEd' from Tim Montgomerie in the Times. It's behind a paywall here, but we've included quotes from some of the parts which are particularly problematic.
Montgomerie positions himself as being a 'moderate' voice on abortion, arguing that the debate only allows for 'hot and cold'. For starters, this seems to be a dishonest presentation of where he actually stands. Montgomerie is a patron of SPUC Evangelicals. SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) is against abortion in ALL circumstances, and even believes that certain forms of contraception cause abortion. Members of SPUC Evangelicals believe that "the widespread abuse and destruction of unborn children [therefore] constitutes a flagrant offence against almighty God." So, although Montgomerie talks about lowering the time limit, or changing the law around termination on grounds of fetal abnormality it would seem his greater desire would in fact be to ban abortion completely (or he should have a re-read of the SPUC manifesto he endorses).
So let's look at some of the arguments he puts forward for 'tighter laws'. First, Montgomerie claims that 2013 "was the year when the reality of foetal “gendercide” within Britain surfaced — the deliberate, discriminatory termination of unborn baby girls". We've written about this before, but the 'reality' of 'gendercide' within Britain did not in fact surface. What surfaced was a 'sting' set up by the Telegraph where no abortions were actually performed. The Department of Health has reported a normal sex ratio for births in the UK.
Then, Montgomerie drags out an old Christopher Hitchens quote (also used by Mehdi Hasan in his anti-abortion piece last year, yawn) to argue that the public is becoming more 'concerned' about abortion:
“In order to terminate a pregnancy,” he said in 1989, “you have to still a heartbeat, switch off a developing brain, and, whatever the method, break some bones and rupture some organs.”
Well, not quite Hitcho. As we know, the majority of abortions in this country are carried out early on in pregnancy, when this simply isn't the case. We liked Edinburgh Eye's take on this:
Yes, that’s sometimes true. Of course, the earlier an abortion takes place, the less likely that it will be: the heart may not have developed, the brain may not yet exist, the bones and organs may still be so undeveloped that there is nothing there to break or rupture. But yes: terminating a pregnancy kills the foetus.
But it’s also true that anywhere girls and women are denied the right to choose abortion, that denial of termination ensures that heartbeats are stilled, a brain is switched off, organs are ruptured: women die. As a woman I know wrote wistfully once, “Do you suppose if we pointed out that we have dear little faces and actual fingernails on our hands, that they’d care that we die?”
With regards to UK law, Montgomerie appears to support a reduction in the legal time limit for abortion:
"Others want a still earlier limit because of research that shows that even if the foetus is not viable outside the womb it can still feel pain."
In fact, the current time limit remains at 24 weeks because experts concluded that this is the limit of viability and that the best medical evidence does not support lowering this limit. The BBC reports on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist's findings that there is no fetal pain before 24 weeks gestation here.
Montgomerie tweeted "I don't think abortion should ever be 'easy'". In the article he suggests introducing 'fully informed consent' by showing women scans or images of fetuses:
'A Michigan law based on this principle requires pregnant mothers to inspect “depictions, illustrations or photographs of foetal development”. Women are still in charge but are helped to fully understand what they’re choosing'.
Thanks Tim! Women (sorry, 'pregnant mothers' ) should be given picture books to fully understand what abortion is. Because, you see, they don't understand what they're choosing, but Tim does. Tim thinks some women should be allowed to have abortions (someone tell SPUC!) but only if it was made as difficult as possible for them, and it wasn't after 12 weeks, and the decision wasn't made due to a diagnosis of fetal abnormality.
He claims that the 'exception' in the UK law which allows for abortion after 24 weeks due to fetal abnormality "has produced an alliance between anti-abortion and disability rights campaigners". Perhaps we're reading the wrong blogs but we haven't seen evidence of this. In fact, many disability rights campaigners have stated their disgust with groups like SPUC co-opting disability rights campaigns to argue against a woman's right to access abortion.
Either Tim Montgomerie should be more honest about his desire to make abortion completely illegal, or we would suggest that his reconsider his allegiance to SPUC, a group which aims to do just that.
Monday, 2 December 2013
We're excited to be part of the Big Give Christmas Challenge this year. If you want to support our work with young people please read on for information on how donations you make this week can be doubled!
You can read more about the Christmas Challenge here but basically, if you make a donation to EFC on the 5th, 6th or 7th of December it has a chance of being doubled, thanks to matched funding from a generous individual donor and our 'Charity Champion' the Cabinet Office.
These matched funds are released at 10am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week. In order to access these funds it's important to try and make a donation as close to 10am on these mornings as possible. So please set a reminder to yourself to visit the Big Give donation page at this time to make a donation!
As always, your donations will go directly towards our work advocating for young people's right to evidence-based information about pregnancy options. If you have any questions about making a donation please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0207 284 6056.
Thanks for your support!
Posted by Education For Choice at 08:00
Wednesday, 13 November 2013
This week, the New York Magazine published the personal accounts of 26 women who have had abortions. The article points out that abortion is "part of our everyday experience" even though it might not always be discussed openly...
"Abortion is something we tend to be more comfortable discussing as an abstraction; the feelings it provokes are too complicated to face in all their particularities. Which is perhaps why, even in doggedly liberal parts of the country, very few people talk openly about the experience, leaving the reality of abortion, and the emotions that accompany it, a silent witness in our political discourse."
Here in the UK, a third of women have an abortion. Half of young women who become pregnant will choose to have an abortion, yet the stigma around abortion can mean that the subject is not discussed. As a result, many young people will receive no education about abortion, from parents or from their school, and misinformation and stigma are able to flourish in this absence of real people's experiences and informed discussion.
We're therefore excited to announce our own small project dedicated to improving conversations about abortion! We've received a small grant from the Abortion Conversation Project in the U.S that will allow our Youth Advisors to create blog-posts sharing personal stories about pregnancy decision making and abortion. And here's where you come in. We'd like people of all ages and genders to send us their stories relating to reproductive choice. Our Youth Advisors have created a short survey form which allows people to share their story anonymously, or not, depending on what they feel comfortable with. These stories (which might be just simple statements, or longer narratives) will be made into visual, engaging blog-posts to be shared with other young people via the Youth For Choice tumblr.
Please help us talk about abortion, in an honest and open way. Share your story here.
For more on the impact of misinformation and stigma on young women seeking abortion see this report on young people and repeat abortion in London.
Thursday, 5 September 2013
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is upset that the two doctors involved in the Telegraph’s 2012 sex-selective abortion ‘sting’ have not been prosecuted, and is seeking ‘urgent clarification’ on the case. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has stated that it is not in the public interest to prosecute the doctors and has referred the case on to the General Medical Council (GMC). As far as we know the doctors have already had conditions put on their registration to prevent them from work involving abortion.
Over in the Telegraph’s ‘Wonder Women’ section, journalist Cathy Newman claims that “wherever you stand on abortion, it's extremely hard to understand why the Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to press criminal charges against doctors who agreed to arrange terminations because of the sex of the unborn baby.” Both Newman and Hunt forcefully assert that "sex-selection abortion is banned in the UK under the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act" and is "against the law". Newman goes on to claim that “there's growing evidence (sex selective abortion is) also carried out illegally in communities in this country.”
So, what is the law around sex selective abortion? And is it happening in the UK? Why haven’t these doctors been thrown in jail?
First of all, it’s important to note that these cases were not of women actually requesting sex-selective abortions. This was an artificial situation set up by the Telegraph, where undercover journalists underwent consultations and filmed the results, something the CPS seem to have taken into account: “in these cases no abortions took place or would have taken place.”
Secondly, the law around abortion and sex-selection is a lot more complicated than these articles imply. As our blog from last year points out, the 1967 Abortion Act does not specifically prohibit abortion for this reason. However, abortion is a criminal act unless certain grounds are met. The majority of abortions in the UK are performed under Ground C: ‘the continuation of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.’ This ground could cover a number of individual circumstances and it is left to doctors to decide which of these satisfy the legal criteria for abortion. As legal abortion is statistically safer than childbirth, some doctors may consider this ground legitimate for women who do not provide further ‘reasons’ for their abortion, other than a desire to end the pregnancy. There is more information about the law in this article by Professor of Law Sally Sheldon.
Thirdly, it is not clear what ‘evidence’ there is of sex-selective abortion happening in the UK. Certainly two journalists requesting abortions they don’t intend to have is not evidence that women in the UK are actually having abortions due to sex selection. The Government’s investigation into the issue showed that the UK’s "gender ratio" is "well within the normal boundaries for populations".
In an older article for the Wonder Women section of the Telegraph Emma Barnett explores this very difficult issue and concludes that, "abortion laws don't need to change: attitudes towards girls do... it’s so important that abortion remains legal, above board and crucially transparent...Pushing abortion into the backstreets would help no one." We need to remain aware of the nuance in this debate and avoid sliding into anti-choice rhetoric which in reality does not support women to make the decision to have an abortion in any circumstance.
For more information, read the EFC blog on this issue from last year, when the allegations first arose.