Thursday, November 30, 2006

Abortion: Why women Must have the right to choose

For years, I had no particularly strong feelings on abortion, except perhaps believing it to be a sometimes necessary evil that I hoped I would never have to deal with personally. Then, when I became pregnant myself, with a much-wanted child, I became and remain utterly convinced that no woman should ever, ever be forced to continue a pregnancy against her will.

The pro-life brigade seem to think women simply 'have babies,' so it's okay to persuade - or even force - a woman with an unwanted pregnancy to follow it through, and then give the baby up for adoption if she still doesn't want it. That way, there's no harm done, is there?

Well, yes. Potentially there is a great deal of harm that can be done.

I had a terrible nine months pregnancy and endless troubles beyond and, to make my point, I’m going to break a few taboos and tell you about it. So read no further if you’re squeamish or don’t want to know my deepest, darkest medical secrets.

It wasn’t just terrible because of the inevitable morning sickness that lasted all day and throughout my entire pregnancy, or the constant heartburn that eventually meant I couldn't sleep unless I was sitting up. It wasn't the piles, or the overwhelming cravings for burgers and Bakewell tart that threatened to give me a heart attack - although they were all bad enough. I also suffered an extreme form of Symphysis Pubis Dyspraxia.

This meant that from five months’ pregnant, walking was agony. I was working for the BBC at the time and I remember the accounts department – quite rightly – querying my expenses claim for a taxi journey to an interview just 500 yards away from Broadcasting House. So, although pleased they were taking care with licence payers' money, I had to explain that, actually, I couldn't have walked that far. A movement as simple as turning over in bed was near impossible and had to be done incredibly slowly. After the birth (and the inevitable third degree tear that required stitches so painful I squirmed like a fish on a slab – I swear the anaesthetic didn’t work), the symptoms disappeared miraculously but, even after a straightforward, textbook natural childbirth, I was still in trouble.

The birth left me with a prolapsed bladder, bowel and womb. The practical effect of this was that I suffered double incontinence and found my sex life suddenly became no fun at all. After five years of suffering in silence - propelled by a particularly embarrassing incident I couldn’t ignore - I plucked up courage and told my GP. He put me in touch with a specialist who said the problem could be solved, as long as I was prepared to give up any attempt to have more children. It took me another two years to make that decision.

Finally, I spent a week in hospital following an operation that sorted me out. Four days later I was rushed back into hospital with complications that left me in such pain that a passing nurse assumed I was having a late miscarriage and offered his sympathies. I couldn’t get the words out to tell him the truth. Eventually, I recovered, and got my life back. The saga isn’t yet at an end yet though; I’m told that when I hit the menopause, I am likely to find my prolapsed womb gets much worse and I will need a hysterectomy.

I was and am prepared to put with all this – In fact, I'm grateful - because I was having and now have a much-wanted child. But is there really, truly, any sadist out there who would say that any woman should be forced to go through what I went through? If you took away my complicity in everything that happened to me, wouldn’t my experience be - in another language - torture? Is torture not what women in many countries worldwide are facing because of outrageously restrictive abortion laws such as those I've detailed below?

Of course, not every woman suffers or might suffer as I did. But how do you know in advance what kind of pregnancy you will have and what might go wrong? Isn’t any pregnancy and birth a difficult, physical state to bear, even when welcome? Can you imagine the horror of a woman having to experience what I went through against her will? A woman who may have suffered rape or incest or whose partner has disowned her? A woman who already has a large family, who uses contraception diligently, yet finds she is up to fifteen in one hundred for whom it failed to work? A woman for whom pregnancy is life threatening? A woman who, because of some 'do-gooder' doesn't even have a child to hug for comfort?

I can’t imagine it and feel no woman should ever have to. That people who call themselves ‘spiritual’ and ‘Godly,’ would put a woman through this kind of torment is beyond my comprehension, especially if they are the same ‘Godly’ people who have denied her contraception in the first place.

This is why I welcome this week’s call by the UK's British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) to make abortion easier. It is a historical nonsense that two doctors must consent before a woman can have an abortion and BPAS is right to suggest that nurses be allowed to give abortion pills to women in the early stages of pregnancy without the consent of a doctor. What woman gets pregnant and then seeks an abortion deliberately? A dreadful mistake has happened and they want and have the right to deal with it as swiftly as possible.

Of course, who in their right minds wouldn’t prefer a society in which abortion was unnecessary? Don’t get me wrong; I am horrified at the number of abortions that take place each day. The figure is atrocious and we should all welcome moves both to reduce the numbers and encourage earlier abortions. But no civilised society should look for a solution to this problem that involves persecuting women by forcing them into potentially terrifying, dangerous, physically and mentally disturbing situations. We are on a very slippery slope indeed when we give greater rights to the as yet unborn than we do to the living.

Abortion around the World: -

A woman’s ability to access safe and legal abortions is restricted in law or in practice in most countries worldwide. In most countries abortion is at least allowed to save the pregnant woman’s life, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. However...

  • Just last week, Nicaragua banned all abortion, even to save the mother's life
  • In El Salvador, a woman who develops an ectopic pregnancy - when a fertilized egg develops inside the fallopian tube and has no chance of survival – is kept under guard in hospital. Until a prosecutor certifies that the embryo has died or the woman's tube has ruptured (a potentially fatal event), doctors are not allowed to intervene.
  • In Chile, abortion is punished by three to five years in prison.
  • Colombia prohibits abortion in all circumstances. However, penalties are substantially lower when pregnancy is the result of rape. Judges can waive punishment on a case-by-case basis, when the abortion occurs in “extraordinary situations of abnormal motivation.”
  • Abortion is illegal in Argentina, although the penalty may be waived where the life or health of the pregnant woman is in danger, or where the pregnancy is the result of the rape of a mentally disabled woman.
  • In Mexico abortion is illegal unless the pregnant woman is a rape victim. Other exceptions apply in some penal jurisdictions
  • Although abortion is legal in the United States, services are not always accessible because of political opposition or legal or financial obstacles. Many states either curtail a women’s access to legal abortion (through mandatory waiting periods or mandatory—and at times manifestly inaccurate—counselling) or limit legal access to abortion to certain populations (such as rape victims or women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancy). Women with limited economic resources face additional obstacles to safe abortion, resulting particularly in discrimination against women who may already be marginalised.
Source: Human Rights Watch

Monday, November 13, 2006

So you think the tabloids are terrible?

Then think again!

Last week I spent a day in the Daily Mirror newsroom and found nothing but a solid commitment to professionalism and integrity among all the editorial staff I met. They were all brilliant at their jobs; had a staggering combined general knowledge; were great fun to be with and displayed none of the sleazy, ‘Lunchtime O’Booze’ hackery too often associated with the Fleet Street red tops. Well, not until I had gone home anyway…

No, seriously, it was a sobering lesson in how not to judge a tabloid newspaper by its reputation among the broadsheet readers. That said, I think I know for sure I might have had a very different experience had I been visiting the Daily Star rather than the Mirror, wouldn’t I?

I would certainly have liked to have been a fly on the wall on October 18th. On that day, according to NUJ magazine, The Journalist, the Star’s editor, Dawn Neesom, and proprietor Richard Desmond (who also has such titles as Asian Babes and Big Ones to his ‘credit’) gave the go-ahead for a page 6 feature headlined ‘THE DAILY FATWA.’

It is alleged the page was intended to be an outrageous spoof of ‘Islamic attitudes,’ featuring a ‘Page 3 Burkha Babe’ (who was actually wearing a niqab) and the slogan ‘We put the ‘fun’ into fundamentalism.’

However, concerned staff journalists and NUJ members (who had earlier expressed their concern but had been over-ruled) approached the Father of the NUJ Chapel, arguing that it would offend the Muslim community – possibly leading to violent reprisals - and affect the future of the paper. He called an emergency meeting; the vote expressing deep concern was carried and, eventually – with only minutes to spare before the paper went to print - the editor decided to pull the page.

So there you go: even journalists on the Daily Star have morals. Isn’t it just a shame that senior management take no notice until it is pointed out that their life and livelihood might be at risk?