June 2017

How I became an abortion rights advocate

By Aedín O’Cuill, medical student and intern at IPPF and the UK Family Planning Association

When I was 16, my biology teacher was taking the class through a session on reproduction. After a discussion about contraception, she looked up at the class and asked tentatively, “Does anyone here agree with abortion? Sometimes people have different views.” Although the question could certainly have been phrased better, I now look back at this as an act of incredible bravery. You just don’t talk about abortion in Ireland. It felt uncomfortable, shocking even. My teacher exposed herself to a lot of potential hostility in what I’m now sure was an attempt to break the silence and stigma surrounding the topic.

At the time, I shook my head vehemently, and no one spoke up in defence of abortion. “Of course it’s wrong”, I thought. “It’s a life.” At 16 I had never thought about the reasons why someone might have an abortion, and didn’t know that some of my nearest and dearest would have abortions in the coming years. When I thought of abortion, I thought only of the fetus, never the pregnant person. That’s the way the discourse around abortion had always been shaped in Ireland, and for the most part, still is.

Seven years later and I am a loud-and-proud abortion rights activist. I am working as an intern with IPPF and the UK Family Planning Association on projects tackling abortion stigma in the UK and internationally. I volunteer for an organisation called Abortion Support Network which provides practical information and financial assistance to women in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man who have to travel to Britain to access safe abortion services. I am a medical student and aspiring future abortion provider. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what has happened in the intervening years to inspire such a huge change.

When I was 16, I didn’t know that approximately 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime. I didn’t know that restricting access to legal abortion does not reduce the number of abortions, but increases the number of unsafe abortions, which can lead to morbidity and death. I didn’t know that the women who have abortions are often the same women we see on the labour ward. I didn’t know that there was a strong moral argument to be made in favour of safeguarding women’s right to safe abortion. At 23, I know all of these things and more.

Having the choice about your pregnancy removed from you can have devastating consequences for women, their lives and their families. Abortion Support Network has heard from clients in incredibly difficult circumstances who have resorted to heart-breaking actions before learning that we could provide them with financial help. Abortion has always and will always exist; it is pregnant women who are best placed to make decisions about their pregnancies according to their own values and circumstances. They will continue to make these decisions regardless of what barriers the state or society puts in their way, and we must protect their right to make these decisions and endeavour to make abortion safe and accessible.

These days I am still ‘pro-life’- I am pro women’s lives.

Photo credit: Sam Boal



Discussing abortion at the Youth Action Movement minicamp in Ghana

By Enoch Weguri Kabange, Youth Action Movement (YAM) volunteer at the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana

Created in 2005, the Youth Action Movement (YAM) is IPPF Africa Region’s participation network of young volunteers.

Every year, the YAM in Ghana brings its members together from the various branches across the country to do what they love to do best – champion sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). A ‘minicamp’ is held to give young volunteers the opportunity to build healthy relationships with other YAM members from all over the country.

The 2017 edition like previous years was held at Cape Coast, Central region. The community where the outreach was held is a fishing community called Ampanyin. It was reported that teenage pregnancies were rampant in the community which comes with potential abortions, mostly unsafe and the associated stigmatization.

As of 1985, Ghanaian law permits abortion in certain cases but it was realized that only a very small number of women had knowledge of comprehensive abortion care and how to access it. This results in about 45% of abortions being unsafe which is alarming. YAM under the auspices of Planned Parenthood association of Ghana (PPAG) aims to drastically reduce this number.

Showing reproductive system

Due to the particular need for information, the outreach at the camp was centered on education though various services were rendered too. The participating YAM members didn’t want anybody left out of the education so they moved house to house and shop to shop doing one on one and small group discussions. In all the YAM members reached out to 260 people with 88 being male and 172 female. Some of the areas covered were teenage pregnancy, contraception, sexually transmitted infections and most especially comprehensive abortion care. This included education on the need for safe access to abortion and the myths surrounding abortion. It has been realized that myths are the leading cause of stigmatization therefore the dire need to make issues clear.



Abortion messaging workshop in London

By Milly, a young volunteer at FPA in the UK

Abortion is a taboo subject across the world, even in places we view as the most progressive and forward-thinking. Last month, IPPF brought together people from the UK and internationally, working or volunteering in different human rights and sexual health organisations to learn more about abortion stigma, how to tackle it, and why it’s important that it stops.

What was initially very shocking, but sadly not surprising, was that no matter where in the world we were from it seemed that even the schools with better sex education failed to properly inform their students about abortion. For those of us from the UK there was an overwhelming consensus that our knowledge on abortion was primarily taught through ethics debates in religious education, often bringing with it myths and a total lack of facts and statistics.

Of the many activities we took part in, the most interesting made us face our internalised biases towards those seeking abortion by ranking the validity of reasons for someone to obtain an abortion. Whilst the more ‘extreme’ circumstances were generally ranked at the top, all of us agreed that the most important reason for someone asking for an abortion is that they had made that choice, and insightful discussions ensued about why the extreme circumstances were deemed the most compelling.

Participants agreed to take action after the workshop!

Despite one in three women in the UK having had an abortion, we still have a long way to go in how we talk about it, particularly in the media. By avoiding the word entirely or using pictures of pregnant women weeks from giving birth in articles, the media creates subtle  biases and stereotypes which are damaging to those who choose to terminate a pregnancy. As organisations and individuals we have to make sure that those around us and the general public are getting the information they need to make informed decisions about their bodies. 

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