Abortion Information


Ireland voted to liberalize abortion laws. The far-right government in Warsaw is moving in the opposite direction.

People attend the anti-government, pro-abortion demonstration in front of parliament, on April 9, 2016 in Warsaw. / AFP / AFP PHOTO / WOJTEK RADWANSKI (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Everyone knows someone who has had an abortion in Poland. But most of it happens underground.

Under Poland’s draconian abortion law—one of the strictest in the European Union—terminations are permitted only if there is a threat to the mother’s life, if there is a fetal abnormality, or when pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest. 

Under Poland’s draconian abortion law—one of the strictest in the European Union—terminations are permitted only if there is a threat to the mother’s life, if there is a fetal abnormality, or when pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest.

Even when it is permitted, few doctors are willing to perform the procedure, forcing women to seek abortion on the black market, where they risk their health and sometimes their lives.

In Europe, only Northern Ireland and Malta have stricter laws, where abortion is banned in most circumstances. Until recently, the Republic of Ireland was part of this group. However, in a momentous referendum last May, the republic voted to lift the ban, joining the list of more than 30 countries that have liberalized abortion laws since 1994. Poland seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

The trend is extremely disturbing given the crucial role that access to abortion plays in protecting women’s lives and health. More than 30,000 women still die from botched abortions each year worldwide. And restrictions on abortion only increase the number of women who seek illegal and unsafe methods. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, abortion rates in countries where it is broadly legal and where it is highly restrictive are similar—34 abortions take place for every 1,000 women in countries where it is not restricted, and 37 per 1,000 where it is illegal.

Officially, just 1,055 women obtained a legal abortion in Poland in 2016, while illegal abortions numbered up to 150,000, according to Krystyna Kacpura, the executive director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning (FEDERA). It’s not known how many women are injured or die as a result of unsafe, illegal abortions. In Ireland, just 25 legal abortions were carried out in 2016, while 3,265 women traveled from Ireland to the U.K. for a termination that year. And in March 2018, the Guttmacher Institute found that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean—where there is a total ban or severe restrictions on abortion—have the highest annual rate of abortion in the world: for every 1,000 women in the region of reproductive age, 44 have had abortions.

In 1989, after the collapse of communism, the new government sought to impose an outright ban on abortion, which had been legal in Poland since 1956—a move widely seen as a payoff to the Roman Catholic Church for its integral role in nurturing the rise of the opposition. Widespread protests against the ban led to the creation of the restrictive 1993 “compromise bill” that is in place today. However, surveys showed about 60 percent of Poles opposed the bill. “Women had no say in the decision. The church and politicians decided for us, and they are still deciding for us today,” said Kacpura.

The church has long held enormous influence in Poland, where about 86 percentof the population identifies as Roman Catholic. Once repressed under the old regime, the church was by its very existence a constant, powerful rebel against communism as bishops regularly criticized government policies. By the late 1980s, it was considered the primary vehicle for anti-communist activism under the Solidarity movement—the hugely popular trade union movement that succeeded in overthrowing the communist leadership in 1989.

Since the end of communism, the church and government have been inseparable. “Politicians know that to be successful they need the support of the church,” Kacpura said. In 2015, the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, strongly aligned with the church, won an outright majority in Parliament, giving rise to an increasingly nationalistic atmosphere that embraced anti-abortion rhetoric.

In 2015, the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, strongly aligned with the church, won an outright majority in Parliament, giving rise to an increasingly nationalistic atmosphere that embraced anti-abortion rhetoric.

In March 2016, lawmakers tried to impose a full ban on abortion, which threatened to imprison women seeking abortions and doctors who performed the procedure for up to five years. Even “suspicious” miscarriages could be investigated.

People were furious. Thousands of men and women took to the streets across Poland in the “Black Protests”—one of the largest demonstrations in the history of the country—forcing the government to abandon its plans. Now, it is trying again. The current Polish Parliament is working on the “stop abortion” bill, authored by staunch conservative groups, that would outlaw abortion for the most common reason: fetal malformation. Yet, as many 75 percent of Poles oppose further restrictions on the existing law, according to a March 2018 survey by Kantar Millward Brown. Another survey found that 69 percent of Poles support the right to terminate a pregnancy before 12 weeks.

Although protests halted the legislative process last spring, Marta Kotwas, a Polish doctoral researcher at University College London and a women’s rights activist, argues that with a PiS victory in this year’s parliamentary elections, it’s likely this law will be passed.

What’s more, under the PiS-led government, access to the morning-after pill—or as it has been rebranded, “the early abortion pill”—has also been restricted with the introduction in July 2017 requirement for a prescription for emergency contraception. A great concern among women’s rights activists is that the strong anti-abortion propaganda and the fact that women have now grown up without access to abortion are conditioning the younger generation not to talk.

“When I’m out on the street collecting signatures for liberalized abortion laws, I get more support from women in their 50s who remember when they had this right. But women in their 20s and 30s say nothing,” said Iza Desperak, a sociology teacher at the University of Lodz.

The church, anti-abortion groups, and government have transformed abortion into a deeply moral issue that has polarized the population.

The church, anti-abortion groups, and government have transformed abortion into a deeply moral issue that has polarized the population.

In the western city of Poznan, for example, anti-abortion campaigners have displayed graphic posters of fetuses alongside images of Adolf Hitler, with text comparing abortion to genocide.

Anti-abortion ideas are amplified by PiS Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who has called the latest abortion bill the new “pro-life law” that will stop abortions of those with Down syndrome, which, he claims, are the majority of abortion cases. Academics and rights activists say there is no evidence to support this.

These messages are shocking for women who grew up under communism. Kacpura remembers when abortion was just a procedure and noncontroversial. “You could have it done on a Friday and be back in church on a Sunday,” she said. Stigmatization of abortion and sex has been compounded by the church’s hijacking of sex education, reinforced by PiS politicians who claim it would lead to “unnecessary sex promotion” and “sexual degeneration.” Instead, children are given “Preparation for Family Life” classes, delivered by the school’s religious teacher, who is approved by the local church.

Growing up in 1990s Lodz, one women’s rights activist said, “The general message was the family is of supreme value. There was no talk about the permissibility of abortion, contraceptives, and consent. The point was to make girls believe that sex can only happen only within a Catholic marriage.”

Under PiS the message has only intensified. Last year new textbooks were introduced that present embryos as “unborn children” and contraception as “dangerous” for a person’s health.

Last year new textbooks were introduced that present embryos as “unborn children” and contraception as “dangerous” for a person’s health.

Teachers have complained to the government about the lack of practical information on access to contraception and abortion. “It’s not an education, it’s misinformation,” Desperak said.

Abortion is already banned in some regions thanks to the “clause of conscience,” which gives doctors the right to refuse an abortion on faith grounds. Although they are obligated to refer a woman to another doctor, it rarely happens, according to Kacpura.

In the eastern region of Podkarpackie, more than 3,000 doctors signed the clause in a PiS-led initiative to make the area anti-abortion, inspired by the Italian region of Verona. A local PiS politician, Jacek Kotula, said the party aimed to send a signal that “homosexuality, gender ideology, abortion, and in vitro fertilization are all unwelcome here.” The same policy “exists unofficially in most Polish hospitals,” Kotwas said. Only 10 percent of hospitals agree to carry out abortions, according to FEDERA.

A Warsaw doctor, Bogdan Chazan, caused an uproar in June 2014 after he refused to perform an abortion of a severely deformed fetus on faith grounds. He failed to tell the mother the abortion would be illegal after 12 weeks, nor where else she could get the procedure. The baby, carried to term, was born with no skull and died nine days later.

A Warsaw doctor, Bogdan Chazan, caused an uproar in June 2014 after he refused to perform an abortion of a severely deformed fetus on faith grounds. He failed to tell the mother the abortion would be illegal after 12 weeks, nor where else she could get the procedure. The baby, carried to term, was born with no skull and died nine days later.

Kacpura said there are many such stories, but these seldom reach the media, as women are often too traumatized to speak out. Patricia Mitro, a Polish lawyer specializing in family affairs, told the Dzien Dobry TVNprogram she has seen a huge increase in the number of women in Podkarpackie reporting that doctors failed to tell them their baby would be deformed.

The situation is just what the PiS chairman, Kaczynski, could have hoped for when, in October 2016, he said: “We will strive to ensure that even pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, is severely deformed, end with the mother giving birth so the child can be baptized, buried, and have a name.”

No one in government has discussed severe conditions where the maximum survival time is a few days or weeks at a cost of enormous suffering to the child and the mother. It’s no wonder that women—particularly those from smaller villages—travel to different regions to see a gynecologist, afraid local doctors will conceal information.

Many women have found a way to safely abort at home, such as Mary from Gdansk, now 28, who ordered pills online using the website of Women on Waves—a Dutch nongovernmental organization that gives advice on accessing abortion in countries where it is forbidden.

Mary was 19 and about to start university when she found out she was pregnant. “I knew immediately I didn’t want a baby. It wasn’t the right time.” The site explains how to get hold of medicines like Arthrotec from pharmacies without needing a doctor’s prescription. Arthrotec, prescribed to reduce arthritic pain, can be used to induce an abortion safely up to nine weeks of pregnancy. “Say it’s for your grandmother’s arthritis,” the site writes. That’s exactly what she did.

Mary took the pills in a relative’s empty house with her boyfriend. Feeling more pain than expected, she called a Women on Waves representative. “I remember being relieved when I heard she had kids around her. It made me realize I wasn’t a monster who hated children,” said Mary, now the mother of two children.

Women who have passed the cutoff for taking the pill can turn to a Polish doctor willing to carry out the abortion illegally, typically paying around 4,000 zloty, or just over $1,000, but it can be as much a 9,000 zloty (about $2,400). The cost is steep considering Poland’s average monthly wage is about $1,250. The University of Warsaw researcher Agata Chelstowska estimated in 2011 that the illegal abortion industry generates $95 million a year.

More and more women are choosing to go to clinics abroad in Slovakia or Germany.

More and more women are choosing to go to clinics abroad in Slovakia or Germany.

This way, women can also spare themselves the shame they are likely to face in a Polish hospital. “You cannot imagine the humiliation,” Desperak said. One such foreign organization is Ciocia Basia, a Berlin-based Polish-speaking volunteer group created four years ago in response to the growing numbers of women traveling to Germany for safe abortions. The group translates documents, organizes travel and accommodation, and subsidizes costs if women cannot afford the procedure, which costs approximately 400 euros (about $450) in Berlin. “We never turn people down for lack of money. We let them stay on our couches for free,” a group member said.

Mary has never told her friends and family about her abortion. “I’m scared of the discussion. If you have an abortion, you’re a bad person. Everyone has an opinion on it. It’s really black and white.” The scale of the Black Protests signified a turning point in uniting women on the issue, and there’s no doubt that opposition to further restricting abortion is strong. So far, protesters have managed to stop a bad situation from getting worse. But much greater work is needed to challenge the abortion laws that were never democratically implemented and to counter the government’s latest efforts.

The United Nations and the Council of Europe have denounced Poland’s “retrogressive” restrictions on reproductive rights. But without consensus among their member states, these bodies have no enforcement powers. In reality, the Polish government has the ability to roll back women’s rights, and it’s down to civil society to push back. That will require more women demanding the same rights that Irish women and their European counterparts have claimed.

Source: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/08/poland-is-trying-to-make-abortion-dangerous-illegal-and-impossible/?fbclid=IwAR3uwRAQEor5AT638NSAE0KH_hSxlJsF_q9APL8p8TIddYiFiYfBsP_UOPw

I wanted to provide abortions for my patients. My med school wouldn’t teach me how.

Illustration by Marina Muun for The Washington Post

Outlook Perspective – Stephanie Ho is the director of primary care for Planned Parenthood Great Plains.

Last year brought one of the toughest moments I’d ever faced as a family doctor. A woman had shown up for her appointment after a three-hour drive to one of our clinics in Arkansas, and we had to turn her away. A state restriction had gone into effect, requiring that abortion providers contract with a physician who has hospital-admitting privileges. It works by weaponizing antiabortion attitudes within the medical community.

My staff and I had been attempting to comply with the law since it was passed in 2015. We reached out to every OB/GYN we could find. Receptionists would hang up on us or refuse to take a message. The doctors who did answer said that while they might personally support a woman’s right to choose, their colleagues did not. One told me that for him to sign on as a backup, he’d need permission not only from his hospital administrator but also from the Diocese of Little Rock — “and after that,” he added, “the pope.” We finally found a willing obstetrician in November.

This fear doesn’t surprise me. Medication abortion is one of the safest procedures out there; it’s less risky than wisdom-tooth extraction (which requires anesthesia). But doctors and nurses in Arkansas are so afraid of abortions — and the attendant politics — that it’s almost impossible to learn about them as a medical student, let alone administer them. Where I grew up, in the River Valley of western Arkansas, nobody said the word “abortion” out loud. When I went to medical school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock, that censorious silence didn’t relent. Over four years, the most exposure we got to the topic was a half-hour guest lecture. (At that time, 17 percent
of medical schools offered no formal abortion education, according to a national survey published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.)

That implicit disapproval carried over to my residency in family medicine, which I began in 2008 at UAMS West in Fort Smith. Second-year residents gave presentations on a topic of their choice — and mine, on abortion, was the most highly attended and contentious that year. A senior faculty member vocally disagreed with my description of abortion as a common medical service, interrupting every few sentences and quoting the Bible at me. Someone dubbed me the “abortion chick,” and the nickname stuck. Whenever a patient at the clinic wanted to learn more about terminating a pregnancy, the staff would call me in to talk her through her options, even when I wasn’t scheduled on a shift. My fellow physicians didn’t feel comfortable sharing information about abortions.

Third-year residents could pursue an elective rotation, and I was determined to learn how to perform an abortion. Because I was not aware of any local providers, I enrolled in a program at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, in Denver. The residency director said it was not an appropriate elective for a family medicine resident, and that he would have to talk about it with the other faculty physicians at Fort Smith. Then he said that the program didn’t permit residents to rotate out of state. I responded by citing the portion of the resident handbook that said we could travel for hard-to-find specialties — and pointed out that another trainee had done so the previous year in a different subspecialty. (Reached by an editor at the Post, a UAMS spokesman declined to comment, saying that the residency program has since changed directors. The medical center did not return phone requests for comment.)

Then came the end of my residency. It was commonly known among residents that if you applied to work at our training medical center and had done a decent job, you were essentially a shoo-in. In my first interview, I was forthcoming about intending to provide abortions at some point in my career. I was not offered a second interview. I decided not to attend our graduation ceremony.

The only other hospital in the area was a Catholic institution, and I doubted that it would even consider hiring me. But I didn’t want to leave: My house, family and patients were all in Fort Smith. My only option was to open my own practice, a highly unusual path for a newly minted doctor. So I took out loans and, in 2011, bought equipment from an out-of-state doctor closing her practice. Unlike most other providers, I did not cap how many Medicaid patients I saw. I lived paycheck to paycheck, paying my bills late and pouring every extra minute and dollar I had into keeping the practice afloat. When I told my malpractice insurance company, SVMIC, that I wanted to provide the occasional medication abortion, it tripled my monthly premium from about $600 to $1,800, claiming that it didn’t normally insure doctors who offer that service. (SVMIC also declined to comment for this piece, telling a Post editor, “We do not discuss our confidential insurance relationships.”)

Although I could provide medication abortions, I didn’t want to advertise the service and subject my staff to the scrutiny and harassment that would follow. So none of my patients asked me for an abortion. I started providing medication abortions only after Planned Parenthood’s Fayetteville clinic asked me to fill in for a doctor there who’d fallen ill — first twice a month, then every week, then twice weekly.

At some point during my residency, a faculty member pulled me aside to ask, “Why do you even want to do this?” Then and now, my answer is: If I can, and I’m willing, then why wouldn’t I? I was more hesitant about going public as an abortion provider. But as politicians continued to pile on restrictions, I saw how that affected my patients — and other doctors — and I realized that I couldn’t do my work and keep quiet. It didn’t feel right that my silence might hinder access to care by perpetuating the sense of shame around the procedure. Today, I am one of four physicians regularly providing abortions in Arkansas, which is home to 1.5 million women. Who else is going to speak up for them?

In January 2016, the organizers of a reproductive-justice rally in Little Rock asked if I would speak, and I accepted. Before I did, I let my father know: He’s an immigrant from Taiwan, always aware of how his children’s actions reflect on him. To my surprise, he was completely fine with it. Some people need abortions, he said simply. It made sense to him that, as a doctor, I would help meet that need.

Not everyone was so supportive. After finding out about the rally, one local family wrote to me saying that, although I had provided them with excellent care, as Catholics (and as donors to a local crisis pregnancy center), they could no longer come to my practice in good conscience.

Yet the exodus of patients that I feared never came. After that, I was no longer afraid to say I provided abortions. I eventually closed my practice — ultimately, I couldn’t make the finances work — and took a full-time position at Planned Parenthood Great Plains, where medication abortion was just one of many primary-care offerings, along with family planning, HIV care and transgender services.

Even so, the abortion work is hampered by a raft of medically unnecessary and insulting restrictions. Planned Parenthood clinics here currently can’t provide surgical abortions, because Arkansas requires that our facilities be outfitted comparably to a hospital surgical center. I’m legally required to hand out pamphlets filled with falsehoods about how the mifepristone pill, which ends a pregnancy, can be “reversed.” My patients sit through 48-hour waiting periods and mandatory follow-up visits, which impose costs — gas money, time off from work, overnight stays, child care — that many can barely afford. The contracted-physician requirement was only the latest imposition; the state legislature will consider passing two more bills restricting abortions when it reconvenes this month.

Reproductive rights depend, in part, on the medical community dispelling taboos. Abortion should be a topic of normal conversation, especially among medical professionals. It is, after all, a part of ordinary life — a routine medical procedure. When I first hosted a lunch for Arkansas medical students called “Meet the Provider” in 2017, I expected only a handful to attend. Instead, some 30 people came, and next time, we expect more.

The path to becoming an abortion provider can be extraordinarily frustrating in states like Arkansas, but younger doctors seem to be much more aware of inequity, stigma and other barriers to medical services. I’m hopeful that their sense of openness will ultimately mean better access for patients.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2019/01/04/feature/i-wanted-to-provide-abortions-for-my-patients-my-med-school-wouldnt-teach-me-how/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.640073ee65f7

Photo: Tony Gutierrez, STF / Associated Press

Abortion restrictions in Texas faced a renewed challenge on Monday in federal court, as abortion rights groups argued in court that more than two dozen of the state’s laws and restrictions are unconstitutional.

The hearing came on the eve of the Texas Legislative session, where lawmakers have proposed still more of the sort of restrictions that have led to a series of lawsuits pitting the abortion rights activists against the Texas attorney general’s office.

Monday, the abortion rights groups in federal court were targeting laws that require a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, that require women to get sonograms of the fetus before getting an abortion, and a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, among others.

“Abortion patients and providers now face a dizzying array of medically unnecessary requirements that are difficult, time-consuming, and costly to navigate — sometimes prohibitively so,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs ask the Court to strike down Texas’ unduly burdensome abortion laws, returning the State to a regime of reasonable and medically appropriate abortion regulation.”

Attorneys for the state called the lawsuit “meritless and bordering on frivolous.”

In the past, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel has called his Austin courtroom a “whistlestop” for the “constant, never-ending stream” of abortion-related cases on the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And the stream is showing no sign of slowing down.

A bill for the legislative session has already been filed by Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, that would make it illegal for a Texas doctor to perform an abortion except to save a woman’s life, and there are several other proposed bills that would create various restrictions. If any of the bills are signed into law, they’re sure to face a legal challenge, sending the two sides back to to Yeakel’s courtroom.

“We know we’ll be fighting this again,” said Marsha Jones, the executive director for The Afiya Center, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “This case will still be going on a year from now, and there will probably be a new one too, just a different law with a different name affecting women’s reproductive healthcare. But we’ll still be here.”

The legal landscape for these cases has shifted following President Donald Trump’s appointment of conservative Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. Kavanaugh replaced longtime swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, throwing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, into question.

Despite the now conservative makeup of the Supreme Court, former state Sen. Wendy Davis said she didn’t anticipate a change in strategy on the part of abortion rights groups in the state. Davis drew national attention in 2013 for her 13-hour filibuster to block an anti-abortion bill in the Texas Legislature.

“I don’t think you can abandon one strategy for another,” Davis said. “That’s why we have three branches of government, and we have to rely on exercising tools and resources at our disposal in each of those realms. It would be foolish for us to look at the current makeup of the court and decide that we’re going to give up on that route because I believe that the law is on our side, and I’m reliant on a judiciary that’s going to uphold that.”

On the other side of the debate, Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, also said he doesn’t expect any Supreme Court reversals in the near future.

“Unfortunately, the case law is currently very bad and the precedent is very bad against the Texas Legislature for doing what we think is just a matter of justice,” Pojman said. “I’m very cautious, and I’m not foreseeing any earthquakes any time soon.”

If Roe v. Wade is ever overturned by the Supreme Court, conservative Texas Legislators heading into the session are going to be ready. Rep. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, filed a resolution that would amend the Texas Constitution to automatically ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Source: https://www.chron.com/news/politics/texas/article/Abortion-rights-groups-make-their-case-against-13515595.php

Campaigners vow to join with MPs to force UK government to support end to abortion ban

People take part in the Rally for Choice demonstration outside Belfast’s city hall last July. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Women’s rights campaigners in Northern Ireland have vowed to join forces with pro-choice activists in the Irish Republic and MPs at Westminster to force the UK government to address the “denial of human rights” in 2019 by supporting moves to end the region’s abortion ban.

Activists urged Theresa May’s government not to sacrifice the rights and health of women at the altar of Brexit, and back potential legislation to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland.

The region has one of the strictest bans in the world, with women in almost every circumstance facing up to life in prison for a termination. The 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland and an abortion cannot be performed legally even in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.

But after the success of the repeal the eighth amendment campaign in helping to overturn the Republic of Ireland’s near-total ban on abortionsin a landslide referendum victory, as well as polls showing strong support for a change north of the border, activists are motivated and energised in a manner not seen in decades, said Emma Campbell, who co-chairs the Alliance for Choice.

“The referendum in the south was really helpful, because you can basically no longer argue that the public don’t support a change in the law,” she said. “This has been a long fight with a lot of setbacks so we are cautiously optimistic, but I would say more optimistic than we’ve ever been.”

In the Irish Republic, the repeal campaign’s use of online platforms such as In Her Shoes to tell the stories of women forced to travel to other countries for an abortion also had a huge impact, said Campbell. “The public heard stories of travel that were no different to the stories here. It gave people courage … it has been such a huge open secret, but once you have broken the silence there is no putting the genie back in the bottle.”

In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist party, which props up May’s government in Westminster, has refused to budge from its hardline support for the region’s Victorian-era abortion law. Sinn Féin, however, dramatically changed its stance after the referendum in the Irish Republic and backs liberalisation of the law.

Campaigners have the support of their counterparts in the Irish Republic who were ready to continue the struggle north of the border, said Ailbhe Smyth, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. “I think what’s maybe most important is we’ve actually managed it in the south,” she said. “If we had lost that referendum it would have set back that process, but winning it has given them great fire and determination.”

A number of elements have come together over the past couple of months to add fuel to that fire. In October polling by Amnesty International suggested 65% of adults in Northern Ireland thought abortion should not be a crime.

A supreme court ruling in June said that the region’s abortion laws were incompatible with human rights legislation. The decision has put further pressure on politicians to act even though the justices declined to issue a final ruling because the case brought before them did not involve an individual victim.

And with the Northern Ireland assembly not sitting since the collapse of the power-sharing government almost two years ago, campaigning MPs in Westminster sense they have an unprecedented opportunity. Last July more than 170 politicians from the UK and the Irish Republic signed a letter urging the UK government to reform Northern Ireland’s abortion laws.

The women and equalities select committee is carrying out an inquiry into those laws, and the minister for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, has told Northern Ireland’s politicians that if they did not liberalise the abortion law, Westminster would.

Since the referendum, the Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley, has also received letters from anti-abortion campaigners, including people born with serious conditions to maintain restrictions on abortion. One asked Bradley to confirm whether she was a Christian, writing: “It would seem that the most vulnerable in our society, the unborn child, is not permitted human rights.”

But a growing number of MPs support a change in the law, with a number taking direct action. A free vote on a 10-minute rule bill, put forward by Labour’s Diana Johnson, passed 208 votes to 123 with cross-party support, bolstering confidence among campaigners and supportive MPs even if the backbencher bill will not become law because the government has signalled that it will not give it parliamentary time.

“We can no longer stand by as women in Northern Ireland have their human rights breached,” Johnson told the Guardian. “It is quite clear that the Westminster parliament stands ready to deal with this.”

Many campaigners are now pinning their hopes on moves by her colleague Stella Creasy who, with Labour’s Conor McGinn, successfully tabled an amendment in October forcing Bradley “to issue guidance” on how officials can continue to enforce the region’s abortion law.

Stella Creasy
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 Stella Creasy: ‘Whatever deals the PM does with the DUP to stay in power we will not rest until abortion is free, safe, legal and local for every UK citizen.’ Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Creasy plans to table an amendment to the government’s long-awaited domestic abuse bill.

“The lack of assembly cannot be used as an excuse not to act on this basic human rights issue,” said Creasy. “In 2019, we will be redoubling our fight against this injustice and seeking to amend legislation to decriminalise abortion across the UK including in Northern Ireland. Whatever deals the PM does with the DUP to stay in power we will not rest until abortion is free, safe, legal and local for every UK citizen.”

The situation for the women seeking an abortion was an ongoing tragedy, said Ruairi Rowan, an advocacy manager at the Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland. “People are still shocked when they find out that you can go to jail for buying abortion pills, that you can’t get an abortion if you are raped,.”

A woman faces prison after been embroiled in a legal battle for years after obtaining abortion pills for her underage daughter, who was in an abusive relationship.

A mural to Savita Halappanavar
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 A mural to Savita Halappanavar, who died of sepsis in 2012 after being denied an abortion in the Irish Republic during a protracted miscarriage. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Women in Northern Ireland will be able to access services in the Irish Republic from this month. However, a three-day waiting period means women in desperate situations are likely to continue to travel to the rest of the UK where they now have access to free abortion services, said Rowan.

But campaigners are more determined than ever that 2019 will bring the change they argue Northern Ireland desperately needs, sai Goretti Horgan, an activist. Horgan said it took the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 after being denied an abortion during a protracted miscarriage to spark a mass movement for change south of the border, she said.

“Maybe the only way we can break the stalemate is to get tens of thousands on to the streets either here [in Northern Ireland] or london,” she said. “I just hope it won’t take another tragic death to make that happen.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jan/02/pro-choice-activists-ireland-success-replicated-north-end-abortion-ban

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe Republic of Ireland voted to overturn its abortion ban in a referendum in May

Seven months and nine days ago, 1.4 million people in Ireland voted to remove its anti-abortion laws.

What (Taoiseach) Irish PM Leo Varadkar called a “quiet revolution”, had culminated with a day when the Eighth Amendment was repealed.

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris hailed the passing of the legislation as a “new era for Irish women”.

This new era began on Tuesday, when abortion services in Ireland were opened for the first time.

But this new era is not without its challenges, as many Irish medical groups have warned.

When did abortion services start?

As of 1 January 2019, Irish abortion services are being provided by Ireland’s health service through GPs, family planning services, maternity units and hospitals across the country.

What abortion services are being provided?

Since last year’s referendum, the law in Ireland now allows for abortion in the following cases:

  • Up to 12 weeks of pregnancy
  • Where there is a risk to the life or of serious harm to the health of the pregnant person
  • Where there is a condition likely to lead to the death of the foetus before or shortly after birth

Abortion care is being provided free of charge for people normally living in Ireland.

Has anyone accessed these services since they began?

There are no official details on how many abortions have taken place since the introduction of the new services on Tuesday.

Repeal campaigners celebrate at Dublin Castle
Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionRepeal campaigners celebrate at Dublin Castle. where the result was announced

A spokesperson for Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) said that its new unplanned pregnancy support service My Options had received “a steady stream of calls” since opening at 09:00 local time on 1 January.

Can you access abortion services in all of Ireland’s maternity units?

Not yet. Ireland has 19 maternity units, but only nine are currently providing abortion services. These are:

  • National Maternity Hospital in Dublin
  • Midland Regional Hospital in Westmeath
  • Rotunda Hospital in Dublin
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Meath
  • University Hospital, Galway
  • Mayo University Hospital
  • University Maternity Hospital in Limerick
  • Cork University Maternity Hospital
  • University Hospital Waterford

It is expected that other hospitals will begin to provide abortion care in the near future. The HSE will provide information to women and to healthcare professionals about where and how services are available as they start providing the service.

How have GPs reacted?

Some medical groups in Ireland have voiced concerns over the January deadline.

Dr Maitiu O’Tuathail, president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), told BBC News NI about 3 to 5% of GPs had signed up to deliver abortion services.

“There remains a lot of uncertainty for GPs around the provision of abortion services in Ireland,” he said. “GPs are being asked to operate without updated Medical Council guidelines, which is problematic.

“The access to ultrasonography is patchy across the country and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

“Finally, the services and medical back-up that maternity hospitals will be able to provide on a site-by-site basis remains unclear.

LEO VARADKAR
Image caption“We voted for the 200,000 women who travelled to England since 1983,” said Leo Varadkar, referring to Irish women who had sought abortions in the UK

“It would have been preferable, if these uncertainties had been resolved prior to, and not during the roll out of abortion services.

“We should strive for the best and safest service possible, anything less simply isn’t good enough.”

A spokesperson for the HSE said it had agreed an approach with GPs whereby details of GPs taking part in providing abortion care will not be published. Details are provided directly to people who need them, through the executive’s new My Options helpline.

“We are satisfied that there is already a good geographic spread of GPs taking part, enough to meet the needs of people who may need to access the service,” said the spokesperson.

“Currently 179 GPs have signed the contract and each day more GPs are signing up.”

Any other objections?

The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is to hold an emergency general meeting on the implementation of the new abortion services, particularly on the safety and readiness of these services.

A date for this meeting is yet to be set.

In October, the masters of the three Dublin maternity hospitals wrote to Mr Harris expressing concerns about the suggested commencement date, which has now passed.

The masters of the Rotunda Hospital, Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital and the National Maternity Hospital said the date was “unrealistic” for the full range of abortion services.

Both the Rotunda and National Maternity Hospital are now listed as abortion service providers.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46737593

A memorial in Dublin for Savita Halappanavar, who died of complications from a miscarriage. She became a symbol for abortion-rights campaigners.CreditCreditPaulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

Ireland this week began offering legalized abortion services, a historic shift in a country that for decades had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

In a referendum last year, voters repealed a clause in Ireland’s Constitution that effectively outlawed abortion, and legislation passed at the end of 2018 allowed for unrestricted terminations of pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

The legalization was immediately met by small-scale protests, with a demonstration at a clinic in Galway gaining national attention on Thursday after a handful of anti-abortion activists gathered outside the entrance with signs that read, “Real doctors don’t terminate their patients,” and “Say no to abortion in Galway.”

The protests set off calls for additional legislation to protect those seeking abortions and for the physicians providing them, including establishing exclusion zones that would restrict how close protesters could be to places providing abortions.

Mairead Enright, a senior lecturer in law at Birmingham University in Britain and a member of the advocacy group Lawyers for Choice, said legislation was needed to ensure that women and doctors did not feel intimidated.

“It’s about generally sending a message about access, sending a message that it’s no longer permissible to stigmatize and intimidate and mislead and obstruct women who are accessing a legal service,” she said.

Simon Harris, Ireland’s health minister, pledged this week to work to designate exclusion zones around clinics providing abortion services, with a plan to introduce a bill in the coming weeks, according to the Irish Independent.

Anti-abortion activists denounced his call for exclusion zones, saying they could limit free speech.

“Abortion providers are going to be protested & picketed in Ireland, it happens in other democracies it will happen here & it will intensify. It is a democratic right,” Declan Ganley, an Irish businessman and prominent anti-abortion campaigner, wrote on Twitter.

Some Irish men and women have begun to organize on social media in solidarity with those seeking abortions, vowing to accompany anyone in need of support to a clinic.

Using the hashtag #SiulLiom, “walk with me” in the Irish language, dozens have pledged their support.

Mr. Harris, the health minister, said that 200 physicians have signed up to provide abortion services and more would be added next week. However, only some are willing to be publicly listed on the national health service’s “My Options” website, the main referral pathway for women seeking an abortion.

Four counties in Ireland have no physicians listed on the official government website, raising concerns about access, abortion rights activists say.

“Many women, particularly in rural Ireland will have to travel significant distances,” Ms. Enright said. “We hope that we are going to be able to build on this initial provision.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/05/world/europe/ireland-abortion-clinic-protest.html

Abortion might as well be illegal in this country given the intensely restrictive laws and regulations placed on the procedure depending on the state. From ridiculous waiting periods enforced for women, to mandatory counseling, and laws that dictate the exact size of clinic hallways, anti-abortion advocates can make it a living hell for women who just want to obtain one. And sometimes, those advocates can make it a living hell for women who just want to learn how to perform one.

Stephanie Ho, the director of primary care for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post which tracks how difficult it was for her to even seek out becoming an abortion provider as a medical student. She writes about how growing up in Arkansas, people barely even said the word abortion, which was an attitude that didn’t change much even as she entered medical studies.

That implicit disapproval carried over to my residency in family medicine, which I began in 2008 at UAMS West in Fort Smith. Second-year residents gave presentations on a topic of their choice — and mine, on abortion, was the most highly attended and contentious that year. A senior faculty member vocally disagreed with my description of abortion as a common medical service, interrupting every few sentences and quoting the Bible at me. Someone dubbed me the “abortion chick,” and the nickname stuck.

When it was time for Ho to choose a rotation, she had to enroll in a Planned Parenthood program in Denver because of a lack of local providers just so she could learn how to perform an abortion. The director of her residency program tried to tell her it couldn’t happen, but eventually relented when she pointed out program rules for “hard-to-find specialties.” But the disapproval from her supervisors didn’t end there.

It was commonly known among residents that if you applied to work at our training medical center and had done a decent job, you were essentially a shoo-in. In my first interview, I was forthcoming about intending to provide abortions at some point in my career. I was not offered a second interview. I decided not to attend our graduation ceremony.

Ho eventually opened and closed her own practice before moving onto Planned Parenthood, but she writes that she’s only one of four physicians in Arkansas regularly providing abortions there. And that’s not surprising given the mountain of restrictions the state piles onto abortion clinics.

Planned Parenthood clinics currently can’t provide surgical abortions, because Arkansas requires that our facilities be outfitted comparably to a hospital surgical center. I’m legally required to hand out pamphlets filled with falsehoods about how the mifepristone pill, which ends a pregnancy, can be “reversed.” My patients sit through 48-hour waiting periods and mandatory follow-up visits, which impose costs — gas money, time off from work, overnight stays, child care — that many can barely afford.

Reading Ho’s op-ed, where she is confronted with anti-abortion bias at every step of her training and schooling, and then subjected to harsh and expensive TRAP laws as a provider, it’s easy to see why so many doctors would, or are perhaps forced to, pursue different specialties. The list of states in America which only have one abortion clinic is growing and as of 2014, 90 percent of U.S. counties had no clinics providing abortions. But TRAP laws are just one part of the growing provider shortage; in a study of 190 residencies done in 2018, 64 percent of directors reported that that abortion training was routine, 31 percent reported it optional, and 5 percent reported that it wasn’t even available.

Source: https://abortion.ws/2019/01/04/gop-womens-senate-judiciary-assignments-are-about-abortion-not-optics/

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