The Personal is Political: Personal Experiences of Having an Abortion
and Supporting Others to Have an Abortion
STOP PRESS : A DIS-UNITED KINGDOM
All4Choice video Interview with Helen Crickard (above) and others Moves to criminalise people in Northern Ireland for buying abortion pills alongside a bill to decriminalise abortion in England & Wales
A bill was introduced in the UK Parliament in London on 13 March that would decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, that is, it would remove two clauses from an 1861 law that criminalises all abortions. The bill will have its second reading on 24 March, supported by a cross-party group of MPs. The bill has a long way to go but there is cause for rejoicing in the pro-choice community. Clare Murphy of Bpas, the group who led on taking such a bill forward with the support of the Royal College of Midwives, said yesterday that one of the major planks of the argument for law reform were concerns about the growing numbers of women who are buying, sharing and using medical abortion pills obtained online. This is happening across the UK, but especially in Northern Ireland, and a number of women have already been prosecuted for doing so under the 1861 Act in both England and Northern Ireland.
The 1861 Act, which also still pertains in most former British colonies, makes it illegal for any woman to use any "noxious" substance (i.e. anything that would kill an embryo/fetus) or any other means to have an abortion, and anyone else who helps them to do so. While the 1967 Abortion Act introduced a wide range of exceptions to this, allowing almost everyone in England, Scotland and Wales to have a legal abortion, it put the decision whether an abortion is permitted firmly into the hands of two doctors and requires any abortion to be managed by them. The 1967 Act does not permit women taking the means of abortion into their own hands. This was not at issue in 1967 because medical abortions pills had not yet been invented. And crucially, the 1967 Act does not apply at all in Northern Ireland, where almost no one is able to have a legal abortion and everyone has to travel to do so. Until medical abortion pills were invented.
So while we are rejoicing in England & Wales (and Scotland will hopefully to follow suit), the authorities in Northern Ireland have launched what is beginning to look like a full-scale crackdown on abortion pills being ordered online. On 10 March, the Northern Ireland Alliance for Choice reported on Facebook that although all political parties in Northern Ireland have expressed the will during recent elections to decriminalise women seeking abortion, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Public Prosecution Service are pursuing and moving to prosecute those seeking abortion and those helping others to seek abortion. This includes raids over the past week, in which the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) raided two addresses in Belfast, and had a warrant to confiscate the phone and laptop of a person at one of the premises. At least a dozen other people connected with the pills have been contacted by the PSNI and invited for "interview". Another 15 cases are also thought to be pending.
In a television interview about these events (All4Choice video), Helen Crickard, an artist in Belfast, said police arrived at her workshop on Wednesday with a warrant. Officers said they had intercepted a package bound for her address containing abortion pills. “They had a warrant to seize abortion pills, ‘instruments’ used to procure an abortion, and mobile phones and laptops,” she said. “Anyone who is expecting a delivery of pills is now facing being criminalised at great cost. It’s not a nice feeling to think that people are after you. However, we won’t be silent. We’re creative, and we will find ways around this.” Crickard would not say whether she had ordered abortion pills. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t done anything I believe is wrong,” she said.
In June 2015, more than 200 pro-choice activists, including Crickard, signed an open letter stating they had helped women to get pills and inviting the PSNI to prosecute them. This followed the arrest of a Belfast mother accused of procuring abortion pills for her daughter, whose case is coming up for review in several months.
Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ireland, the Health Products Regulatory Authority has seized more than 3,000 abortion pills sent to the Republic between 2011 and 2015. The clampdown could affect women across Ireland, because most illegal abortion pills sent to the Republic come through the north. Customs officers were thought to be less strict in the North, and some women in the Republic use the addresses of activists in Belfast to get the pills delivered before sending them over the border.
INITIAL SOLIDARITY REQUEST:
This All4Choice video on Northern Ireland local community television station NVTV features activists' responses to the raids. NI Alliance for Choice have asked if you can share the video on social media and tweet your solidarity using #trustwomen.
Here's a suggested tweet: I stand in solidarity with those targeted by police in Northern Ireland abortion pill raids #trustwomen @All4Choicehttps://t.co/JX7HJd6b4Z
« Aucune femme ne prend la décision d’avorter en dansant et en chantant. C’est une des choses les plus traumatisantes»
Dans cette contribution, Diakhoumba Gassama souligne l’importance de la thématique de la santé de la reproduction dans les pays de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. Elle parle essentiellement de l’avortement et apporte des clarifications factuelles à cette problématique. Elle dénonce le faible accès des femmes et des jeunes, mariés ou non, aux services de planning familial ainsi qu’à une éducation intégrale à la sexualité. Elle met également en lumière les corollaires de la pénalisation de l’avortement, notamment l’avortement clandestin – qui est la première cause de mortalité due à la grossesse en Afrique de l’Ouest–, l’infanticide, l’abandon d’enfants. Diakhoumba Gassama invite enfin le Sénégal, ainsi que les pays de la région qui ne l’ont pas encore fait, à suivre l’exemple de la Sierra Léone qui a dépénalisé l’avortement en 2015 à la suite d’un vote à l’unanimité de l’Assemblée nationale.
No woman takes the decision to have an abortion dancing and singing: it is something really traumatising
In this video on reproductive health, made in the framework of a debate organised by WATHI, Citizens Think-Tank of West Africa, Diakhoumba Gassama highlights the importance of reproductive health in West African countries. It begins with her talking about the right to decide over our own bodies and provides clarification on several misunderstandings on this issue. She denounces the poor access to family planning services and comprehensive sexuality education afforded to women and youth, married or not. She also highlights the consequences of the criminalisation of abortion, notably clandestine or unsafe abortion (which are the main cause of maternal mortality in West Africa), and how the criminalisation of abortion in fact leads to infanticide and the abandonment of children in Senegal when women are unable to access even an unsafe abortion. Diakhouma Gassama calls upon Senegal, as well as other countries in the region which haven’t already done so, to follow the example of Sierra Leone who in 2015, decriminalised abortion following a unanimous vote in their National Assembly.
(Diakhoumba Gassama is Vice-President, West African Network of Young Women Leaders)
Video, Dakar, Senegal, 13 February 2017 ; PHOTO: WATHI
16-year-old girl dies from unsafe abortion: emergency treatment couldn't save her
Residents of Nyalenda in Kisumu County are still recovering from a very traumatic incident in which a 16-year-old girl was found by her mother lying in the corridor of her home half dead, vomiting and bleeding profusely from complications of an unsafe abortion.
"Elizabeth" was rushed to the hospital and eventually was able to receive emergency treatment. However, it was too late – her uterus had to be removed because infection had damaged it completely. She later died in the hospital while still undergoing treatment.
This case is just a drop in the ocean of unsafe abortion cases reported in Kisumu County, Kenya.
According to the African Population and Health Research Centre, unsafe abortion remains one of the five leading causes of maternal morbidity and mortality in Kenya, with 464,690 women having unsafe abortions yearly. More than half of them are unsafe, carried out with herbs, coat hangers, spoons, knitting needles and harmful pharmaceuticals. Some 40-45% of all pregnancies in Kenya are unplanned and almost half of them end in an abortion. Of the country’s eight regions, Nyanza – where "Elizabeth" lived and died – recorded the second highest number of abortion cases at 36,842, with Rift Valley leading at 38,687. The majority of those who have unsafe abortions are young and poor and end up with serious complications or die...
Kate Ferro for Buzzfeed News Here’s what it’s like to get an illegal abortion
BuzzFeed Health asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to write about their abortions. The form was shared widely and translated into multiple languages. They received over 1,200 responses to the English form alone. They published nine of the stories. Here are a few excerpts:
I did it with pills (misoprostol)… No one should have to go through this alone, so I studied hard and I became like an underground expert in abortion…When I was 16 I had no idea about anything and I did it anyway, because it was the only possibility that I had, and the only thing that I wanted was not to become a mother. It wasn’t traumatic at all because I was so sure about my decision. After that, it was clear to me that no one should have to go through this alone, so I studied hard and I became like an underground expert in abortion because in my country it’s so… illegal, there is no information at all from official media. So I try to help all the women I can, and I’ve been doing it since then. When I had to go through this again, eight years after the first time, I was relieved because by then, I knew everything about it.” (Chile)
“I had my abortion about a year ago in Jamaica (where it’s actually illegal) because I was living in Abu Dhabi at the time (where it is very, very illegal). I had sex and didn’t know he took the condom off. My godmother is a prominent doctor in Jamaica, so she hooked us up with someone who does abortions there...
The young woman started undressing while the man prepared the medication, breaking one tablet in half. She took off her jeans and her panties and lowered herself on to the mattress on the floor. The man put on a pair of white surgical gloves, then got down on his knees at the foot of the makeshift bed. He slowly pushed the tablets into her vagina. The 23-year-old woman was lying in a flat in downtown Johannesburg. She stared motionlessly at the ceiling. "It wasn't painful, just uncomfortable," she recalls. "But I had no choice."
The man explained the procedure. He was going to give her medication. "Some of the pills I would have to drink at home, the others he would insert inside my vagina."
Earlier that day she had arranged to meet the man from the advert in Lilian Ngoyi Street. She followed him up the dark staircase of a derelict building to the room where he would perform her abortion. The medicine he gave her would induce the abortion, he explained. The second set of pills he told her to drink with water at home would "cleanse her womb"...
Women's March, Rome, 8 March 2017 Woman denied abortion by 23 different hospitals
An Italian woman has revealed she was turned away from 23 hospitals in north-west Italy when she was seeking abortion services, highlighting the disconnect between the country’s abortion laws and access to services.
The 41-year-old mother of two came forward to share her story anonymously in Il Gazzettino. She became pregnant when her contraceptive failed. She was refused an abortion by her gynaecologist and her local hospital, and then began contacting other hospitals, which also refused to see her. The hospitals said they didn’t have an opening within the 12-week timeframe, or that they didn’t have doctors who were willing to do the procedure.
The woman was only able to access an abortion when trade union Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL) intervened, allowing her to get an abortion at Pauda’s main hospital, which had previously refused her request.
In many cases, waiting lists for abortions can prevent women from accessing the service within the 90-day window. CGIL reports the “dangerously long” waiting lists force women to pay for private services, or “to resort to clandestine abortions, a social shame which Law 194 was created to prevent."...
Women's March, Barcelona, 21 January 2017 Women’s Link sues the Region of Murcia Health Department in Spain for violating the right to a dignified abortion
Women's Link is suing the Health Department on behalf of "Ana", a woman who was denied information by the Health Department about a serious fetal condition for almost six weeks during her pregnancy. She also faced discrimination in the Santa Lucía de Cartagena Public Hospital in Murcia, and was prevented from accessing abortion services in a dignified manner. As a result, she suffered serious physical and psychological harm.
On International Women's Day, 8 March, Women’s Link demanded access to safe, legal and dignified abortion for all women in Spain