Seventy five per cent of the workforce at EFC are not British citizens (admittedly there are only four of us). Does it matter? No – you pick the best people for the job and we’ve got a brilliant team here. Is it significant? Yes, I believe it is. It might seem like a tabloid headline from hell ‘Immigrants in Abortion Charity Take-Over Scandal’, but there’s a good reason that we get a disproportionate interest in jobs at EFC from people who haven’t lived here all their lives and that two of the team here are American and one is Polish.The Americans come from a context in which the abortion debate is fraught. Everybody is expected to pin their colours to the mast and commit to one side or the other. It is a daily battleground in which a – seemingly – liberal federal law is being challenged and dismantled daily in state legislatures and courts around the country. If you care about abortion rights in the States you REALLY CARE. You will hear a bit more about the Polish context from Barbara in a future blog, but suffice to say that when you come from a country where women have no access to safe, legal abortion you really understand the devastating effect that has on women’s health, on their status and on their lives.
There’s also lots of reasons why the British can be a bit complacent about the issue of women’s right to abortion. We have a functioning abortion law that could do with some updating, but we’re lucky that in the past 10 years access to abortion services in Britain have improved exponentially. 90% of abortions take place in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy because there has been a conscious effort to speed up referral processes, remove obstructions and delays and make the process smoother for women. Over 90% of abortions are provided free to woman – paid for by the NHS, even when they take place in clinics run by independent abortion providers. The vast majority of people in this country support a woman’s right to choose abortion. So it’s hardly surprising that the only time we start to get noisy about abortion rights is when we face a serious threat to current rights and provision – such as when the current 24 week time limit was challenged in Parliament in 2008.
People who want to work at EFC are passionate and committed to making sure that the UK maintains all the gains it’s made in abortion rights and provision, and addresses all the shortfalls that still exist, because there are serious problems still here in the UK. If everything was perfect I would have laid down my placard years ago – as soon as we defeated the Alton Bill in 1987 (my introduction to pro-choice campaigns). No indeed – all is not rosy this side of the Atlantic. If there was no work left to do EFC would not exist, but we are here and won’t stop what we’re doing until every young person whoever they are and wherever they go can receive accurate information about abortion, impartial support with pregnancy decision-making and accessible services. As long as anti-abortion agencies are welcomed into schools to spread misinformation and fear about abortion; as long as the advice services they run continue to lure young women in with the promise of support only to terrorise them with graphic images, inaccurate information and moral judgment; and as long as they pour vast resources into lobbying MPs to dismantle an abortion law that has saved hundreds of women’s lives – we’ll be there.
British campaigners don’t need to wait for the next attack on the Abortion Act; or for the first abortion doctor to get intimidated, threatened or hurt; or for shortfalls in NHS funding to roll back all the recent gains. We don’t have to accept that our sisters in Northern Ireland who pay UK taxes still cannot get safe, legal abortions at home or free NHS-funded abortions on the mainland. The work’s going on now so roll up your sleeves…
Find out what the UK pro-choice coalition – Voice for Choice – is campaigning on and find out how you can help EFC campaign for better information, and support for young people by contacting kate [at] efc.org.uk.
…and in our next blog. What does contemporary politics and the upcoming election mean for sexual and reproductive rights?
Lisa Hallgarten is Director of Education For Choice