A women stands in a protest with a sign stating abortion is healthcare, and that healthcare is a human right. Which is the underlying message to this article about abortion: the stories you don’t see.

Abortion: the stories you don’t see

I worked in abortion care for 5 years, I was spat on, cursed, my name and image was posted on countless anti abortion website and group pages. But the stigma was so loud you barely could shout beyond it. Here I want to bring to you the stories you don’t see in the news, soaps or magazines.

The majority of people when they hear ‘abortion’, will immediately go straight to the usual justification reasons and story lines like: the condom broke, they didn’t use protection, they had sex too young, it was a one night stand.

I am here to tell you that is so far from the truth. There is WAY MORE to it. And not just for the women who are having to make these incredibly tough choices, but also the on the teams of clinical and non-clinical staff who help provide this VITAL service every day.

The women who had no choice

The daughter. The girl who came to us after usual clinic hours because that was when her dad and uncle went out of the house for the evening. From a deeply religious family, her dad didn’t allow her anywhere near boys. She wasn’t allowed to talk, interact or exchange any communication with them. What he didn’t know is that his brother (her uncle) was having sex with her every night. She got pregnant. She needed an abortion but also help. She came to us for help and received her treatment and a referral into specialist support services to help her with her domestic situation.

The mother to be. After trying for 10 years, dreaming of being parents, this couple saved money for private IVF treatment. Success. The 12 week scan looked great. They were finally able to get excited about being parents. Then they receive the devastating news at their 20 week scan that the baby hasn’t developed and would not survive. They made the heart breaking decision no parents want to make. On the day, the father to be was so heart broken he couldn’t leave the car. The mother to be bravely entered the clinic by herself. We made sure a counsellor was made available for both her and her partner as part of her treatment and also they had 6 weeks of counselling after the treatment.

Abortion is a fundamental healthcare service that needs help not limiting. The abortion sector has always been under pressure, demonised and excluded. Through all that they continue to fight and go the extra mile every time for each and every person they treat. The NHS subcontracts their abortion services — think about that how you will. And if you come to a certain conclusion… yes you are probably right.

The decision to have an abortion is NEVER easy. Its heart wrenching, devastating and life altering. The decision never leaves you. Like most grief, you don’t get over it. You learn to live with it. And some days are harder than others. Those who have to make such difficult decisions need to be respected not judged. They are making the best decision for them, that they feel is the right decision at that point in their lives. They need to able to make the decisions in a society that understands that these decisions are not spontaneous or ‘easy way out’ decisions. Treatment includes free unlimited counselling but a lot of people don’t take it out of shame. They don’t want to think about it after it is done. Which means they can’t process and live with something that society has made them feel dirty for doing. THAT IS WRONG.

The other side to the story.

It isn’t just the women, healthcare need to respect the service provision. When you are training to become a doctor the time allocated to Obstetrics and Gynecology is tiny compared to other areas. So even from the beginning the exposure for healthcare professionals to the sector is minimal.

In 2021 there was 214 256 abortions the highest number since the act was introduced but there are dwindling numbers of surgeons that can perform the surgical treatment so badly needed to be available to women not just in the UK but in Europe. Most surgeons who perform surgical treatment in the UK fly in from around Europe as we have so few British surgeons able to perform such treatment.

Many nurses and midwives who I worked with spoke of anti abortion discrimination in antenatal clinics and maternity wards. As a sweeping statement, many say it was the older more vocal healthcare team members, but again immediately creates isolation, and puts abortion into the naughty corner. It has to be accepted as a vital service option and choice.

It’s not a glamorous industry, but it is an essential one. I have never been so inspired by my colleagues as I was when I worked in abortion care. Their dedication, commitment and drive to help everyone who came through those clinics every day. Everything from a simple hand-hold, to texting partners, family, friends, to organising flights, hotel rooms, going out to get the patients favourite coffee, or even shopping bags from the shopping centres, so the patient could pretend to people they had been out shopping for the day (this is no joke, I’m deadly serious). These are the things those incredible teams do to help in any way they can to make that terrible day a tiny tiny bit easier.

NO ONE WANTS TO CHOOSE AN ABORTION

But it needs to be a choice as there is sometimes no other alternative. But the horrific historical stigma that has existed has just created a perfect storm for long term stress, guilt, and sometimes denial that leads to later abortion choices and higher risk. The shame people hold for years not wanting to share their trauma and devastation in having to make that decision, impacts more aspects than you think. And doesn’t just affect the person who has had the termination. The partners, the family. Those who are supporting the person need the support as well and not to be judged.

Things can change

Medical treatment access was improved in March 2020 when the Secretary of state for health and social care and the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services approved temporary measures for the use of both the early medical abortion pills at home, without the need to attend a hospital or clinic. Medical abortions accounted for over 85% of all abortions in 2021.

This is a tiny win. But still. A win.

This whole issue surpasses the political war that has begun, this is human dignity and respect for those who reproduce. You don’t have to totally ‘like’ abortion. But RESPECT what choice and options it gives those who need it to be there. Like the daughter and mother to be earlier in my post, these services cant be taken away or limited, they need to be normalised and embraced by the wider healthcare sector.

From my side, it’s time to start up the conversations again we were having to support the campaign in 2018 to repeal the 8th in Ireland. But this time it is not for the women across the Irish Sea but for our own women, our own daughters, grand daughters.

This cannot be left.

I will be personally writing to my MP, increasing my commentary on social media, allying myself with organisations who can voice on a louder scale like BPAS, Abortion Rights, the coalition We Trust Women and many other groups.

Please, if you believe in choice and the right to be able to choose. Say something, even just having the conversation over a coffee with friends, colleagues. You don’t have to know everything, but if you believe, please speak up. Don’t be intimidated. Show your support and love.

DEstigmatise Abortion will help allow more movement. Talking is the starting point. Join in the conversation. Locally, Nationally or Globally. We can do this.

We can’t let them win.

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Vix Proctor

Vix Proctor

Marcomms Specialist☆Proud Northerner☆ Proud Ally ☆Podcast host for @TwoBottlesIn_UK ☆Passionate for #Equality #Change #MentalHealth #Prosecco #Gin☆