Today, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), the Family Planning Association (FPA), the Abortion Support Network (ASN), Birthrights and Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) wrote to the Director General of the Public Relations and Communications Association, Francis Ingham, to express their disappointment at the decision to award Both Lives Matter a "best campaign" award at their Public Affairs ceremony on Thursday for the group’s work campaigning to maintain Northern Ireland’s virtual ban on abortion. We wrote to explain the consequences that this ban has on the women we provide care, advice and support to everyday, and in support of our colleagues at Alliance For Choice and the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, who had asked Mr Ingham to reconsider the decision to honour a group which seeks to deny women and girls access to basic reproductive healthcare. bpas, the FPA, ASN, Birthrights and ARC are all interveners in a case currently before Supreme Court on whether Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breach human rights.
The text of the letter is below.
Dear Mr Ingham,
We write to you as providers of services and support to women from Northern Ireland to express our profound disappointment at your decision to award the honour of "best campaign in Northern Ireland" to Both Lives Matter, an organisation which campaigns in favour of the continued denial of women's reproductive healthcare in Northern Ireland. You have, of course, every right to award any honour to whomsoever you please, but we feel it is important that you and your colleagues are fully apprised of exactly what you are celebrating.
We agree wholeheartedly with the points made in the joint letter London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and Alliance for Choice sent to you on 8th December, which highlighted that Both Lives Matter seeks to entrench discrimination against women and girls through denying access to abortion care, and disseminates misleading information about reproductive health. We understand you have not responded personally to the letter, but via a press release in which you described the work of Both Lives Matters as merely "controversial" and that awards are handed out on the basis of the "quality of the work delivered".
As organisations which witness the consequences of refusing women from Northern Ireland access to abortion, we wanted to alert you to the situation in Northern Ireland that Both Lives Matter’s "work" seeks to maintain. Everyday, women from Northern Ireland faced with a pregnancy they cannot continue must find the funds to make the journey to Britain - often alone and in strict secrecy - or order abortion pills illegally online. They will be women in a myriad of situations, but will include victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, very young women and women who have been given the devastating news that something is seriously wrong with a much wanted pregnancy. Thanks to the phenomenal campaigning work of groups such as the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and Alliance for Choice this year, these women can now have their treatment paid for in Britain, but for some the burden of travel will remain too great.
Women who are caught using pills bought online risk prosecution and punishment under laws passed in 1861, which stipulate that any woman who ends a pregnancy can be sentenced to life in prison. The use of abortifacient medication is safe, peer-reviewed, and medically approved. Mifepristone and misoprostol are recommended by the World Health Organisation as a "safe option for women" and online pills when sourced from reputable providers such as Women on Web are both reliable and safe. However, the criminal prohibition on abortion can deter women from seeking in-person medical support if they need it after taking this medication. You may not be aware that since last year, three people have been through the courts, and one case against a mother of a teenage daughter is still ongoing.
From October 24th to October 26th, all of our organisations intervened in a Supreme Court case, in which we provided evidence that Northern Ireland’s existing restrictive abortion contravenes Articles 3, 8 and 14 on the European Convention on Human Rights as it does not allow abortion in cases of rape, incest, or when a serious foetal abnormality has been diagnosed. A verdict is currently pending.
It is also the case that, through concluding observations, general recommendations and case law, multiple UN Treaty Monitoring Bodies have criticised State Parties, including the UK, when governments do not ensure access to lawful abortion. These findings and recommendations have been based upon the human rights to life, health, private and family life and non-discrimination, and the freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
This clearly demonstrates that ‘Both Lives Matter’ cannot be dismissed as merely ‘controversial’. By recognising this campaign in a Public Affairs Award, the Public Relations and Communications Association is providing an endorsement for the denial of healthcare and human rights.
bpas was delighted to have been shortlisted for our campaign to reduce the inflated price of emergency contraception, but under the circumstances no longer wants recognition from an organisation which is also happy to celebrate the systematic suppression of the rights of women and girls to basic healthcare. Please accept this letter as notice of the withdrawal of our entry.
Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs, bpas
Ruairi Rowan, Senior Advocacy Officer in Northern Ireland, and Laura Russell, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, FPA
Jane Fisher, Antenatal Results and Choices
Mara Clarke, founder and director, Abortion Support Network
Rebecca Schiller, chief executive, Birthrights
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Notes to Editors:
bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.