On November 2nd the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) placed the following notice in the Irish Times. They simultaneously engaged with their supporters (and detractors) across social media outlets using ‘#NoWayToTreatWomen’. These actions reignited conversations across the country on abortion and in particular – conversations about having to travel to the UK in order to access abortion services.
The @freesafelegal twitter feed was packed with messages of thanks and praise for BPAS throughout the weekend of the 2nd. For many of our followers the BPAS notice was an act of solidarity with women in Ireland who have travelled, or who will be obliged to travel to one of their clinics to access abortion services. For other supporters BPAS were directly calling our Government to action, questioning it’s ability to care for women in Ireland by saying – ‘We’ll care for your women until your government does’.
Those who hold opposing anti-choice views were naturally outraged by the BPAS Notice. They questioned its legality, given Ireland’s strict abortion laws, and in particular – those laws governing access to information on Abortion services. They demanded to know what gave BPAS the right to comment on Irish abortion laws? They declared that the only possible motive for BPAS’ involvement in the Irish abortion debate was financial gain.
With regards the legality – the BPAS notice was perfectly legal. As the notice did not contain a phone number, an invitation to donate money or details about the services it provides – it is not what the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) would class as an advertisement nor does it break any laws by providing information on abortion services.
As to BPAS’ right to comment – many of the 4,000 women a year who travel to the UK to have an abortion do so in a BPAS clinic. BPAS are a registered charity in the UK which provides reproductive health services. These services include – contraception advice and vasectomy, pregnancy testing and counselling and abortion treatments. The staff in BPAS clinics meet women who have travelled from Ireland every day, and are thus uniquely positioned to comment on situation. They have an insight into the extra burden of stress travelling places on those coming from Ireland compared to the ‘normal’ stresses faced by those who access abortion services from within the UK.
BPAS have stated publicly that they would prefer it if people in Ireland who want to access abortion services could do so in Ireland. They see the hardship travelling to the UK inflicts on those in their care and they hear first hand the extraordinary logistical difficulties people are required to navigate in order to travel. Be it accessing money; time off work or organising child-care – the stresses heaped on people in an already stressful situation are exacerbated by having to travel from Ireland . BPAS are also acutely aware that many will face difficulty accessing the follow up medical care they need.
The current government has no wish to legislate further on abortion in it’s lifetime. The BPAS notice serves as a reminder that every year, thousands of women in Ireland decide that abortion is the right choice for them. Thousands more will make the same decision in this coming year. Until our government recognises the need and the public desire for access to abortion services in Ireland – BPAS will continue to offer us the best care they’re able to.