On the anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act, celebrating the UK's only abortion fund

October 27th, 2012

Categories: Abortion Support Network, International Funds

Guest post by Jennifer Reiter, a volunteer with London's Abortion Support Network. The Abortion Support Network (ASN) was founded in 2009 to help women who need to travel from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for a safe and legal abortion. Each year since then requests have doubled for funding, accommodation, and transportation.

When I moved to London from Chicago in 2009, I was aghast that no one recognized or celebrated one of the most life-saving pieces of legislation in the history of the United Kingdom, the 1967 Abortion Act legalizing abortion in the UK. The Act, which was passed on 27 October 1967 and came into effect on 27 April 1968, was truly great advance for women’s health. Before 1967, more women died of unsafe abortion than any other pregnancy-related cause.

In contrast, in the US the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a huge annual celebration every January and often includes dazzling fundraising gala events. I even remember one year that then-Senator Obama spoke at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser at which I worked one wintry anniversary. So why weren’t pro-choice campaigns and charities in the UK taking advantage of this landmark date in October by celebrating, speaking out and raising much-needed funds?

The following year I was introduced to the Abortion Support Network (ASN).

That October I attended ASN’s first birthday and fundraiser in a room above a pub in West London. ASN was founded in October 2009, 42 years after the Abortion Act made abortion legal in the UK. Since then, the organization has used the month of October to celebrate its founding and hold a much needed fundraiser to bring in money. ASN is the only organization in the country that provides financial assistance, advice and support to women forced to travel to England from Ireland and Northern Ireland for abortion, women who pay between $640 and $3,200 to access a safe and legal abortion that should be provided for free.

Yes: even though Northern Ireland is a part of the UK, and even though people there pay the same taxes as people in England, Wales and Scotland who are able to access abortion for free through the National Health Service, abortion is illegal in almost all cases. And the need is stark: requests for assistance have doubled for each of the three years since ASN was founded.

I’m still waiting for the big soirees to take place amongst our pro-choice charities and campaigns here in the UK every October.

In the meantime, we’ve had a lot of political activity around the topic of abortion lately leading up to the 45th anniversary. Anti-choice U.S. export “40 Days For Life” and local anti-abortion groups are currently picketing clinics that provide abortions around the UK. In early October, two high-ranking government officials made public statements expressing support for limiting abortion to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Mere days before the furor erupted over these statements, ASN took part in rallies calling for action on abortion in Dublin and London. In Dublin, ASN Founder and Director Mara Clarke spoke to a crowd of 2,500 marchers, describing the women we hear from in Ireland and Northern Ireland, the desperate circumstances they are in and why ASN exists: to provide a much-needed support service to these women forced to travel to England for an abortion. On the same day, I spoke to a rally organised by Abortion Rights and held outside the Houses of Parliament in London.

Both of these events have garnered ASN increased media attention, Twitter followers and e-bulletin subscribers. However, as with all abortion funds, what we need most is money. For women in Ireland and Northern Ireland who must fly to England to access a private abortion, costs can easily top $3,000.

How to help: you can support our all-volunteer run charity by telling your UK contacts about ASN and encouraging them to donate or volunteer. Even if you live outside the UK, you can donate to ASN through PayPal. And you can learn more about ASN and the women we serve here!