Did you know that the UK has the harshest punishment for self-induced abortion of any country in Europe, bar Ireland? And, that an increasing number of women are now buying illegal abortion pills online.
Can you imagine facing life imprisonment for procuring an abortion, not in Ireland, or the US, but here in the UK? This is not something from the pages of a dystopian novel, it is in fact a reality facing every women in the UK today – in modern Britain, it is still illegal for a woman to procure or induce her own abortion, and the punishment if she does is severe.
Today, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) released data from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency which shows that the number of abortion pills intercepted in the UK has increased 75-fold, from just 5 pills in 2013 to 375 last year.
This shows the increase of women who are buying abortion pills online who are, most probably, completely unaware that they could not only face prosecution but actual lifetime imprisonment for it.
What is an abortion pill?
It basically works by blocking any of the hormone progesterone which results in the womb contracting which causes cramps and bleeding, similar to a miscarriage. And, as awareness of these online pills is increasing, so is the number of actual women using them.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that for some women abortion pills are their only option. Testimony released by Women on Web, a not-for-profit online abortion provider (which does not routinely send pills to the UK) demonstrate how the current system (where women must meet certain requirements and two doctors must approve the abortion) is failing women:
‘I live in a rural area in England and have no friends, and the relatives I have I am not close to. I was hoping to have a termination in the comfort of my own home without judgemental eyes and without worrying about my husband knowing. I fear what would happen if he did. I have 3 children and my 3rd is 11 months old. I considered an abortion when he was conceived and had a terrible pregnancy and still suffering from post natal depression. I will try to seek help, anonymously if possible. I’m in great need of help.’
‘I’ve just found out I’m pregnant and I can’t keep the baby, can you tell me if I can get the tablets from you please. I am in the UK but it’s impossible for me to get to a clinic due to having a disabled daughter who I can’t leave and I have no one else I can trust. I’m in a complete mess, clinics said I have to leave my daughter at home but I have no one else at all to have her, and due to her disabilities a nursery can’t have her. I’m 1 week late. I’m in good health and have no allergies or medical conditions. Please I’m really desperate for help.’
‘I’m a young student and I want to have an abortion because I do not have the financial resources to bring up a child and I’m already drowning in student loans also I don’ t feel ready for responsibility of raising it and I want to finish my studies. I live in United Kingdom, I know abortion is legal there, but being a foreign student I can not afford this country prices of procedure and the place in line for supported abortions is just to long and not guaranteed. I feel absolutely horrible and desperate and womenonweb.org seems to be the only place that could help’
Yet things could be about to change. On 13th March, Diana Johnson MP is proposing a Ten Minute Rule bill that would repeal the relevant sections of the current abortion act. Monumentally, this is the first piece of pro-choice legislation to be debated in the House of Commons since the 1967 Abortion Act, and if it became law, it would protect women who do need to use online abortion pills from committing a criminal offence.
Ann Furedi, BPAS Chief Executive, recognised that things need to change: ‘At BPAS, we do all that we can to make abortion services as accessible as possible, However it is clear that for some women the barriers to clinic-based treatment feel insurmountable. These are women in desperate and difficult circumstances. They are not criminals deserving of life imprisonment. Fifty years after the 1967 Act was passed, it is time to bring women’s reproductive healthcare into the twenty-first century and remove abortion from the criminal law. In the meantime, we urge these desperate women to contact us so we can help find a safe, legal solution.’
Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, also voiced her support for the bill: ‘Women’s equality and wider choices depend on having control of our own bodies. In 2017 it should not be the case that women still have to fight for their reproductive rights and access to sexual health care. At our first party conference last November, Women’s Equality Party members voted in favour of full decriminalisation of abortion across the UK and Ireland. We must stand together to say: Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Rights.’