About Reproductive Review
Welcome to the online edition of Reproductive Review.
Reproductive Review is an update of news and comment on abortion issues. It is produced as an educational service by British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas). Reproductive Review is the re-branded version of Abortion Review: see below for an editorial explaining why we are expanding our focus.
British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) supports reproductive choice and health by advocating and providing high quality, affordable services to prevent or end unwanted pregnancies with contraception or by abortion. BPAS also offers a range of other reproductive health services, including pregnancy testing, STI testing, and advice for erectile dysfunction. To find out more, please visit the bpas website: www.bpas.org
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Editorial: Abortion Review is becoming Reproductive Review
bpas Reproductive Review will continue to report on clinical, political, and cultural developments in abortion. But it is re-branding and expanding its focus, to situate abortion within the range of issues and experiences that affect women over the course of their reproductive lives.
We know that the women who seek abortions are no different from the women who have children, or want to have children. In October 2012 bpas launched its ‘Mother, Daughter, Sister, Friend’ campaign in mainline train stations across Britain to highlight this reality. The campaign was not controversial, and the public response was appreciative.
Statistics tell us that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and experience tells us that these women do not exist ‘out there’, but among our friends and family. Abortion has been legally available and widely accessible in Britain for over 40 years, and has enabled three generations of women to take for granted opportunities that their ancestors could only dream of.
The ‘normalisation’ of abortion on a social and cultural level has been reflected and also enabled by advances in medical technology and practices. The development of early medical abortion (EMA, the ‘abortion pill’ ) has transformed abortion from an operation performed by surgeons to a pill swallowed by women themselves that safely induces a miscarriage. This has had a huge impact on the potential for the demedicalisation of abortion services throughout the world. Improvements in the sensitivity of pregnancy tests mean that women can know they are pregnant almost as soon as it happens, and emergency contraception has now been developed that is effective up to five days after intercourse. For centuries, women sought a way of ‘bringing on their period’ - in an increasing proportion of cases, this is what we have today.
Opponents of abortion decry these developments as ‘trivialising’ abortion - the reality, as we know, is that better methods and a more accepting culture do not encourage women to have abortions rather than continue their pregnancy; they enablewomen who have decided to end their pregnancy to act on that decision earlier, facing fewer unnecessary punitive barriers.
There are a number of ways in which abortion intersects with other aspects of women’s reproductive health and pregnancy decision making, from the management of spontaneous miscarriage to the use of fertility treatment to the ‘hyperregulation’ of women carrying wanted pregnancies. All of these issues demand our attention, and require an impassioned defence of women’s freedom to decide for themselves not only whether to be pregnant, but also how to be pregnant.
But while it is right to recognise the widespread cultural acceptance of abortion, and to aspire for a world where abortion care is situated within the wider spectrum of reproductive healthcare, it is also important to understand the ways in which abortion is different to other gynaecological procedures. For example, the ethical and political debates about abortion have gained momentum in Britain over the past two years, showing that the question of the ‘morality of abortion’ is far from settled. A society in which people hold a range of religious beliefs, and in which the idea of the fetus invokes a range of deep-seated emotional responses, will always need to debate the rights and wrongs of a procedure that deliberately ends a fetal life. It is the role of Reproductive Review to engage in debates about these issues.
We believe that the doctors and nurses who help women to end unwanted pregnancies do so because of a humane and progressive commitment to the women in their care. Without control over their fertility, women will never be able to play a full and equal role in society. We fully subscribe to the statements set down
by the London Declaration of Pro-Choice Principles, which represents the outcome of a discussion among leading providers of, and advocates for, abortion care.
However, our support for choice stems from our belief in the individual’s moral autonomy - and this includes women’s choice not to abort a pregnancy, doctors’ choice not to perform an abortion, and campaigners’ freedom to argue the case against abortion. The law should not seek to insist that women have abortions
any more than it should restrict women from having abortions, or doctors from performing them. In a liberal society, provision should be made for people to act on their own choices and beliefs. This means that debates about abortion need to be had out in public, not manipulated through changes in legal regulations.
Over the past two years, vocal campaigners in and around Parliament have attempted to restrict women’s access to abortion, through pushing for changes to the regulations surrounding abortion counselling, attempting to lower the upper gestational limit at which abortions can be provided, and misinterpreting the
existing law to imply that doctors are acting illegally when they are not. These attempts to restrict choice have been exposed and successfully challenged, but they are likely to return in different forms.
To ensure that abortion is provided well, effectively, and widely, it has to be advocated for. The provision of abortion can never been assumed. The recent experience of British politics highlights the need for more, and better informed, debate about the morality of abortion and the principle of women’s autonomy in reproductive decision-making. To this end, British Pregnancy Advisory Service hostsa range of discussions and debates, on the pages of Reproductive Review and through our events programme. Join our mailing list, and keep up to date.
Editor, Reproductive Review