Hazel McHaffie

Abortion Act

Abortion: rights, choices and heartaches

Whatever you feel about the rights and wrongs of abortion, I suspect the news this week of the Supreme Court’s decision in the USA to overturn Roe v Wade and end the constitutional right of women to decide about reproductive matters for themselves, putting the decision into the hands of the legislature in each State, will have had an effect on you. And if my understanding is correct, some Republican States will even make it illegal to intervene in cases of ectopic pregnancy where the fetus, growing usually in the fallopian tube, cannot be viable, and the mother’s life is at risk.

Phrases like ‘going back 50 years’, ‘a dark day for women’, capture the sense of shock and outrage so many feel in the 21st Century where equality, autonomy, rights, interests, are everyday words, not esoteric ethical terms.

I guess my own circumstances influence my personal views, but I confess, I foresee dire consequences. I was in clinical practice in the days before the Abortion Act came into force here in the UK in 1967, and saw at first hand the maternal death, the terrible damage, and the family heartache caused by both self-inflicted and back-street abortions carried out by unqualified people in unhygienic conditions. It underlined for me the desperate measures women would go to to end an unwanted pregnancy. It shone a light on the grave disadvantages of those with limited resources and choices. It highlighted the anguish of losing a baby. It brought me face to face with the tragic death of young girls.

Nor is the closure of these specialist clinics only the end of a single service: abortion. There are far-reaching repercussions. Because these centres – well, the good ones anyway – don’t just process patients on a conveyor belt; inbuilt into their work is listening, counselling, supporting, guiding; helping vulnerable women and girls to address the problems which make them consider termination in the first place. Decision making is a staged process. And it includes guidance for the future: dealing with the grief and guilt, avoiding further unwanted pregnancies, coping with the responsibilities they already have.

Opponents of abortion have a right to their opinions, but in my view, they do not have the right to force their opinions on others, especially on those who are at their most vulnerable and traumatised.

The reasons for seeking to terminate a pregnancy are legion. Ending the life of an innocent child is indeed a big deal, but what of the well-being of …

Sally, who has been told her 20-week fetus has a lethal abnormality.

Jacqui, whose mental health is precarious already, and who knows she can’t cope with a dependent child when she’s struggling to look after herself.

Dolly, who has learning difficulties and scarcely understands what’s happening to her body, and of her mother, already worn out looking after Dolly.

Precious who has been told her unborn child has a genetic condition that will mean he will never walk or talk or know her.

Twelve-year-old Caroline, who was sexually assaulted by her father and now has a positive pregnancy test hidden in her school bag.

Mother-of-three Hetty, who’s daily struggling to cope and simply doesn’t have the financial, emotional, or physical wherewithal to raise a fourth child.

Trixie, caught between a pregnancy which will end all contact with her family on the one hand, and the judgement of her church which forbids abortion and preaches eternal damnation on the other.

Teenager Katarina, who was assaulted by a stranger when she took a shortcut through the park so her mother wouldn’t be worried that she was late home after sports practice.

Fatima, who is in an abusive relationship and regularly raped by her partner, and now expecting his child, whom he attempts to dispose of through violent kickings every Friday night.

Elizabeth Jane, who has just got that longed-for promotion at work and for whom pregnancy right now would be the end of a promising career.

Yasmin, who has been through years of infertility treatment, ending up with five viable implanted eggs requiring selective reduction to ensure her own and the babies’ safety.

First-year university student Andrea who was taunted for still being a virgin, and in a drunken moment of madness allowed a persistent boy to remedy the situation.

It’s not for me to pick and choose which of these pregnant women/girls deserve my sympathy, which should have a choice, who qualifies for an abortion. It’s not for me to force them to give birth to these babies and live with the horror of what that means. I won’t be there.
It is for me to understand and support and stand up for the freedom to choose.

If you want to hear firsthand what a ban on all abortions can mean in real life, listen to an American lady speaking to Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Andrea Prudente was on holiday in Malta this month, when she began bleeding profusely at 15 weeks – her placenta had started to sheer off. Then her waters broke and she was told her much-wanted baby could not survive. But Malta is the one EU country that bans abortion in any circumstance, even when the fetus can’t survive, even when the mother’s life is in grave jeopardy. And this lady’s life was indeed in danger; nevertheless she had to risk a flight to another country to obtain the medical assistance she needed. It makes harrowing listening. But we can’t turn away from this reality and sanitise it. It’s happening to real women in June 2022.

America’s overturning of the constitutional rights of women doesn’t stop abortions; it stops safe abortions!

 

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To be or not to be: anorexia? or abortion?

With Over my Dead Body about to go to the printer, my mind keeps straying to the next novel. I’m simply itching to get going again. If you’re a follower of my blog you’ll know I keep a pile of folders with ideas and plots and topics for the future, and this time I’ve whittled the choice down to two: one about abortion or one involving anorexia. No shortage of material for either.

So you’ll understand why my eye honed in on two articles in Friday’s news. First up: Women who have nine abortions. Nine? Wow.

pregnant womanIn a former life, as a healthcare professional, I very occasionally cared for women who were having abortions. Actually, I’m old enough to have witnessed the effect of backstreet and DIY abortions in the years before the Abortion Act was passed in 1967, coming into effect in clinical practice in 1968. None of us would want to go back to that horror, I’m sure. Women died and were horribly mutilated. Health care staff were traumatised.

After the procedure became legal in the UK, I personally elected not to be active in the termination process, or to wish to know why the women had chosen this path, but I had no reason not to look after them as patients. Most were distressed and chastened by the experience, and I’ve known some who went on to develop mental health problems as a consequence. Only rarely did I encounter women who were using abortion as a form of birth control. But even with this background, the week’s statistics have still shocked me.

A Department of Health report shows that a total of 185,122 terminations of pregnancy were carried out in England and Wales last year. Of those, more than 66,000 were repeat procedures. Over 4,500 had had at least four abortions, 1,334 were up to at least their fifth termination, and 33 women had had nine or more. Just pause for a moment and think about that – the loss of life … and the effect on these thousands of women … and on society. Is this an acceptable set of statistics? Is this what the Bill was all about?

The second news item featured the other end of the scale: the Irish abortion Bill, otherwise known as The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.┬áBack in ‘my time’ I was aware that women secretly came over to Britain from Ireland to seek the help they wanted because there was an absolute ban on terminations over there. They still do apparently (about 4,000 last year according to Irish Department of Health figures) – the sheer scale of today’s abortion-tourism was a revelation to me.

Twenty years ago their Supreme Court ruled that women in Ireland were legally entitled to a termination if it was necessary to save the mother’s life, but six successive governments since have failed to introduce legislation to enforce this. Until now. This week. July 2013. 46 years after the UK allowed legal terminations.

It was the much-publicised death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar from septic shock last autumn after being denied an abortion, which precipitated this latest attempt to make the procedure legal in certain circumstances: where there is risk to life or the woman is suicidal. And please note, we’re not talking about frivolous reasons or social convenience here; we talking about life-or-death decisions. Nevertheless, the debate has been and remains a hotly contentious issue, involving nasty things like open aggression and death threats and letters written in blood. Even Mrs Halappanavar’s grieving husband has been sent hate mail by anti-abortion activists.

This is groundbreaking stuff in Ireland. Parliament has been in an uproar, with resignations and expulsions and threats of excommunication from the church. Lobbying groups are threatening to bring court cases to challenge this new law. Even though, as it stands, this Bill only helps a very limited number of women. Those who are pregnant as a result of rape, those with fatal fetal anomalies, those who simply can’t face the prospect of another child, are not included in this legal entitlement. What would you say to that?

So yes, the subject remains an ongoing hot potato. Lots of ethical issues to grapple with. Many indeed that might get me into big trouble too were I to write about them! Only question is, will this be my ninth novel? Or will I take on anorexia? I’m still swithering.

I confess at the moment I’m really tempted by the eating disorder and all its ramifications, only that didn’t hit the headlines this week. And I have a title for that book already!

 

 

 

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