We Should Not Be Having To Fight For Access To Abortion In The Middle Of a Crisis. But Here We Are

Kelly Grehan

The covid 19 crisis has transformed so much of our lives in such a short space of time. We need to ensure access to all areas of healthcare remains accessible. Having an abortion is a medical procedure which should be easily accessible on demand.

In the next 13 weeks as the COVID 19 peaks, 44,000 women will need an Early Medical Abortion. Many of the women needing them will be those with underlying health issues who have already been told to self isolate. All of us must avoid unnecessary journeys, we are told.

As with everything at the moment, services are being impacted upon by staff absences.  A quarter of abortion clinics run by bpas have closed because of staff isolating, so anyone  wanting to access an abortion may have to travel further than usual. We also know that usual practicalities – including childcare are much harder at the moment.

There is now a real danger that women will not be able to access abortion services.

On Monday the Department of Health and Social Care issued guidance, inline with The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, The Royal College of Midwives and the British Society of Abortion Care Providers, making  recommendations to introduce a safe & effective, temporary telemedicine service for women seeking terminations. Later that day it was retracted. No reason was given.

Just to be clear what we are talking about, an early abortion involves taking two forms of medicine.  The first medicine ends the pregnancy by blocking the hormone progesterone. Without progesterone, the lining of the uterus breaks down and the pregnancy cannot continue.  The second medicine makes the womb contract, causing cramping, bleeding and the loss of the pregnancy similar to a miscarriage.

In medical terms this is a relatively simple procedure. So why is being denied to women now?  It is hard to see this as anything other than an attack on Women’s healthcare – at a time when many women are already suffering.

Dr Jonathan Lord, co-chair of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) Abortion Taskforce and British Society of Abortion Care Providers (BSACP) made these comments 

“It seems extraordinary how government advice is, quite rightly, to isolate in order to contain the spread of the virus – unless you are a woman requiring essential health care, in which case the Government will force you to go on a completely unnecessary journey to a crowded clinic or hospital.   I simply cannot understand why the Government is behaving in such a cruel and reckless manner towards women’s health.”

Is there reason to fear that we will see a roll back of our much fought for rights in the months ahead?

 In Texas, abortion services have been haulted in a move by the Governor to suspend “surgeries and procedures that are not immediately, medically necessary.”

Women seeking terminations need compassion, now more than others. I implore   Matt Handcock to listen to clinical experts regarding terminations and women’s reproductive health during this crisis and reverse his decision.

It’s Been A Terrible Week – But There Are Reasons For Hope

Kelly Grehan

As we all know the last seven days have been a week like no other.  Our way of life has been transformed. Amongst our new found hardships, shock and anxiety we are grieving the loss of things we were looking forward to – things like holidays, weddings, seeing our children attend proms and other rights of passage.  

Almost without exception we are all grieving the loss of things we never expected to miss – many of them things we always thought we never really liked.  Things like school – even taking exams, travelling on public transport, sitting next to people in meetings and driving our kids to hang around with their friends.

Most of us are anxious.  We are worried about money, health, family and we what worry what tomorrow will bring,

We are all missing people too.  I’m missing my baby nephew, I’m missing my friends  and the adventures I was expecting to have at the now cancelled 40th birthday parties I was expecting to attend this year.  Most of us have had emotional phone conversations with friends and relatives whom we would usually see regularly. Usually we might nip round to see a friend who was upset – give them a hug, make them a cup of tea.  Now we simply must not do that. I rang my grandparents today – to wish my Nan a happy mother’s day and realised as I hung up that I have no idea if and when I will see them again.  

It is ironic that after a decade where we have feared for the consequences on our children for lacking human contact as they were  spending too much time on their electronic devices we are now grateful they have them – as they face spending months with this being their only contact  with the friends they used to see every day.

Tomorrow, my children, like many others, will begin their first day of homeschooling.  Two weeks ago the idea that they would be learning from home would have seemed propostuous to me – I had always taken pride in their high school attendance, worried about the impact on their education and development of social skills if they were away and believed passionately in the need for them to spend time outside, with people from different backgrounds and to hear try new things. Now I don’t know when they will see any other humans in person other than each other, me and my husband and none of us know when we will visit a new place.  

 These are indeed dark times.  But I truly believe there are reasons for optimism.  

For as long as I can remember Britain has been known as a ‘selfish society.’  Headlines decried the fact people did not know their neighbours, did not do things for others.  We wasted food, we threw things away that worked perfectly well and inequality and a lack of things in common seemed to have bread a lack of empathy.

But this week, none of those things seemed to be true anymore.  Yes there are idiots hoarding toilet rolls and refusing to give up their rights to go to the pub.  But most people I know have condemned this and are disgusted by that behaviour. What I have seen this week could be described as a rebirth or reignition of true community spirit.  People are genuinely concerned for neighbours – often people they barely know the name of and are ensuring they are looked after. People are going through their cupboards and ensuring that, rather than waste food they pass it on to someone else and people are facing several journeys to shops to get shopping for neighbours whose health precludes them from making the journey themselves.  

There is conversation everywhere expressing concern for others. I have not heard a single voice of descent about the Chancellor’s measures to protect workers and have universal approval for the measures to include self employed.  I’ve never known such consensus on government policy before. Online forums – so often a place for vitriol are now filled with expressions of concern for others and offers of help for others along with thanks for health staff.

This illness seems to strike across the social divide.  For the first time in my lifetime I really feel that everyone feels we are in this together and that they must be part of the fight to save lives.  

As awful as everything is, I feel proud of my community and I hope the support and solidarity we are providing to each other last long after this wretched virus is eradicated.

Privilege and Panic

Kelly Grehan

I’ve never felt privileged like I felt this morning.  

I woke up this morning, sent my kids to school and my husband and I both settled down to a day home working.  No one in our household has any history of illness, indeed both my boys have impeccable school attendance records.  If I were to need to be off work I would get full sick pay, we could continue to pay our mortgage.

That’s not to say I am not experiencing moments of panic and horror at what is happening, but, for us, there is an unreal quality to it.  The biggest danger to us personally is for the four of us to end up stuck indoors together for two weeks and for our holiday to be cancelled.  

Our lifestyle – caused mostly by luck with health and circumstances – has shielded us from the horrors that now face many of our friends and neighbours.  We can, more of less sit back and follow the government advice and know that no difficult decisions await us.

I am painfully aware that, had this crisis occurred five years earlier, when my mum was suffering what turned out to be a terminal illness every action we took would have taken on a critical concern as any of us contracting the illness could have shortened my mum’s life and meant we could have been bared from seeing her – a thought so heartbreaking it’s hard to bear.  Then there is the thought of how my aunt, sister and I would have looked after my nan, who lived in sheltered accommodation had we been forced to self isolate when she was alive. In either circumstances we would have had to arrange our lives in an effort to try to stop us contracting the virus because the consequences of getting it would have been so awful. That would have meant keeping the kids off school, so not working and then all the financial and practical implications that would bring.

And, it is with heartbreak I watch friends now consumed with fear as they worry if decisions they are making are putting themselves or their families at risk.  I see people – who this time last week were making a decent living – not knowing if they will have jobs this time tomorrow or if their company can survive this week.  I cannot imagine the weight of trying to decide whether to stay off work because you have coughed a few times – knowing that doing so will mean you don’t get paid for at least 2 weeks and going to work means you might endanger others.

I see friends who cannot visit the parents who live in care homes and others cancelling long looked forward to trips to see family abroad or far away. I worry for  mums of disabled children fretting because they cannot get the larger nappy sizes they need or the specialist wipes they relied upon.

Never has life seemed as fragile or as unpredictable as it does now.Try as we might there is little we can but carry on.  I sent my love and admiration at everyone doing their best through these difficult times.

Battle Weary Reflections On International Women’s Day

Kelly Grehan

This week we have had to face the fact, once again that the next President of The US will not be a woman. I cannot see a likelihood of Donald Trump – misogynist and sexual assaulter of women – losing the US election and that can only mean that a sizable number of voters in America do not find his behaviour towards women problematic – never mind reprehensible. Then there is the depressing rhetoric from some who explain they failed to support Warren because she is ‘school-marm-ish’ – what that means and why it would be a negative trait in a president I’ve no idea.

Warren, herself described the “trap” of gender for female candidates
“If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’” Ms. Warren said. “If you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”
Then there is situation in my own Party. I’ve nothing against Keir Starmer being Labour Party leader, but I find it depressing that we will have two leaders called ‘Keir’ before we will have a female leader. My chosen candidate Lisa Nandy summed things up this week when she responded to being asked if she thought the women had had a tougher time in the leadership contest, Lisa Nandy responded that she had not ‘seen an article about Keir’s shoes yet.’’

People keep telling me things are improving. But are they really? The number of female heads of government is lower today than five years ago with only 10 women in such positions in 193 countries,

This week a UN Report, looking at 75 countries, found that not one had acheived gender equality. 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights.

Globally, close to 50% of men said they had more right to a job than women. Almost a third thought it was acceptable for men to hit their partners. About half of the world’s men and women feel that men make better political leaders.

How do we start to combat this? We have had countless terrible male leaders which surely proves tosterone is not a bonus for a leader. We have had decades of feminism now, decades of campaigning for equality, of women proving (to use a phrase) that anything a man can do we can do bleeding.

But still here we are, fighting for a world where our daughters can walk home in their school uniform without men harassing them, where we can do our jobs without comment on our clothing and where when we say we have been sexually assaulted no one passes judgement on why we were alone/drunk/flirting/wearing a low cut top/dancing/etc.

Sometimes it is so exhausting fighting these battles over and over again. We think we are making progress and then we find ourselves in a world where Donald Trump is likely to serving a second term as President. But what choice do we have but to fight on? If we accept the world as it it we will never change it.

So for now, all I can do is heed Elizabeth Warren’s advice
‘’Choose to fight only righteous fights, because then when things get tough — and they will — you will know that there is only one option ahead of you: Nevertheless, you must persist.’’

Mums Don’t Need To Justify Their Involvement In Politics

Kelly Grehan

I will be honest and say I am writing this in anger. One of my fellow councillors is a mother of two children with additional needs. I won’t go into details, but yesterday someone saw fit to question whether it was appropriate for her to be a councillor in her circumstances.

I am so sick and tired of people thinking women must justify their choices.

When I decided to run for council people asked me what my husband thought. I am certain no one has ever asked him what I thought of his career choices.

Then there are the constant insinuations that places of power are not suitable for mothers, as if they lack something or bring strain on institutions by their very presence.

This attitude that women with children are somehow a burden to an organisation is pennicious and harmful.

In fact I will go as far to say its advantageous for councils to have women on them.

It is well documented that the cuts the Tory government have made to council budgets have disproportionately hit women and children. For example, earlier this year The Women’s Budget Group launched a report entitled Triple Whammy (authored by Heather Wakefield, the former head of local government at Unison) which looked at the impact of local government cuts on women.

It found the network of local government services which are vital to women’s lives as workers, mothers, carers and citizens have been torn apart by central government cuts to council funding since 2010.

Ms. Wakefield commented

Women’s refuges, public transport, street lighting, libraries, adult education, social care, youth services and community centres have all been affected, leaving women less safe, unable to access learning and leisure facilities and increasingly having to fill the gaps in care provision.’

And of course, when care services are rolled back its typically women that end of stepping in.

With only 32% of elected councillors being women, and only 14% of all councillors being under 45, is it not inevitable that services used primarily by those groups are the ones that will be lost ?

I’m not saying councillors cannot act for all groups and demographics they are not part of – of course they can. But, bringing up children today is vastly different to 20 years ago. With my oldest child now being 13, I’m aware that I became a mother at a very good time – when Sure Start services were at their peak, breast feeding support services had not yet been dismantled and Health Visitors were accessible to all mums. Just over a decade later and it’s a very different situation. My experience is not fit to base current judgements on. It is simply out of date. Of course I talk to lots of people in my ward who are experiencing these services (or lack of them) but having diversity in the room makes a difference, and its hardly like mothers of school age children are a rarity so why are they a rarity in councils?

We need people on councils who are experiencing services – and cuts – first hand, who understand their impact.

Furthermore it’s no coincidence carers are largely missing from policies – because their presence is missing from the decision making processes.

I’m sick of people who are carers – for children, older people, ill people, or whoever – being made to feel they don’t belong. It’s indicative of the attitude this country takes to carers and it’s indefensible. I want to hear the voices of those living with these roles. Until we do they will remain ignored.

So why do people take the attitude mothers dont belong in places of power? I wish I had an explanation. But let me say this, those who cannot appreciate the hard work and the importance of the role taken by mums who are councillors are seriously lacking in empathy and basic common sense and must be challenged whenever they spout these nonsensical opinions. Not just for the sake of those they criticise, but for the sake of all people that lose out when other mums are deterred from standing and we have councils which are not representative of the people they serve and there is no one advocating for those people who are not represented.

Judge The People Making Unwanted Advances, Not Those Who Receive Them By Kelly Grehan

When I was 17 I went to a birthday party in a school friends’ house. I wore a short blue dress, with a high neckline, flesh coloured tights and blue velvet shoes with heels that were about an inch high.

I wore that dress hoping I looked attractive. I expect I was hoping one of the boys there, mostly fellow school friends, would try to kiss me.In the event, none did, but the father of the birthday girl, a particularly rough man, whose wife was in another room, put his hand up my dress and on my bum. One of the boys I was with, bravely told him to stop. The man replied “don’t fuck with me boy, I’m a Millwall supporter.”

We all laughed and the night carried on. I don’t recall feeling particularly upset. 20 odd years later I look back on the incident with horror, that a man probably older than I am now would think it’s acceptable to touch a teenage girl.

Then there was the time I went to a Halloween ball when I was a university student. I guess I was 19. Not long before The Spice Girls had gone to the premier of their film wearing colourful bras and blazers, without shirts and I thought they looked amazing. I worked as a health care assistant in the holidays and my flatmate and I decided it would be good to go dressed as sexy nurses. We pinned up the hems on my uniforms, wore stockings and wonder bras, which were the big fashion item at the time, with newspaper articles about them, seemingly every day. We let the zips on the front of the dresses stay just low enough that a decent bit of cleavage was on display, hoping we looked as good as Geri Halliwell. When we arrived a friend of my boyfriend introduced us all to a friend of his. My boyfriend went to the bar and the friend of a friend put his hand up my skirt and undid my stocking and brushed my knickers. I automatically slapped him round the face and ran into the toilet. When I returned he was telling my boyfriend there had been a misunderstanding. He apologised and said it was difficult for men to resist when women dress so provocatively. I said not to worry and he then proceeded to put his hand on the back of my dress. I walked away.

Later the friend who introduced us shouted at me about how unreasonable I was not letting this guy round to my house for the after party drinks!

I never saw him again, thankfully. I learnt a valuable lesson that night – women will always be blamed for the actions of men.

On neither occasion did I think of going to the police, or even in the first instance phoning my parents to come and get me.

I’m not sure why I felt the need to describe what I wore on both of those occasions. What I was wearing should be irrelevant, but we all know it isn’t. I know that what I was wearing on both occasions will be scrutinised by people reading this story. Oddly enough I can’t recall what either of the males were wearing, and as a teen I must have gone out hundreds of times, but I struggle to remember what I wore on most times. I think I recall it with these instances because subconsciously I attribute some of the blame to my choice to wear these outfits.

I also feel compelled to mention that on neither occasion was I drunk. On the first incident I would have consumed what I always drunk at house parties- 2 bottles of alcopops, as agreed with my parents. At university I would have been drinking snakebite, but this occurred at the very beginning of the night, and realising I needed my wits about me I stopped drinking then. It should be irrelevant, of course, but somehow I know it isn’t for some people.

Neither incident has scarred me for life. I know very few, if any women who do not have similar stories to recount. I would probably never have felt a need to commit the stories to print if it were not for reading the comments directed at Charlotte Edward’s in the last few days.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Sunday Times journalist Charlotte Edwards has written that Boris Johnson groped her upper thigh under a table at a private dinner in 1999 when he was editor of the Spectator magazine.

I’ve heard people questioning why she did not react at the time, or complain then. Well without knowing Charlotte I can take a pretty good guess. It simply wasn’t worth it. I presume she was at an early stage in her career. Speaking out at the time would have been to invite attention on herself, none of it good. Humiliation was likely.

Even now, as a successful journalist, in a relationship with a very prominent journalist (Robert Peston) there are those accusing her of attention and fame seeking or looking for a career boost. It’s not clear to me in what way they think she will achieve this, or why, if this was the case, she would not have done this earlier.

There are also those that take the view that men touching women are either doing it by accident or that it is the only way of knowing if a woman is interested in them. Isn’t it funny how men don’t seem to touch each other in intimate places by accident? Is talking not an appropriate means of finding out if someone is attracted to you?

Then there are those that seem to think she should count herself lucky: that women enjoy being inappropriately touched. I’m genuinely shocked at how many of these comments come from women.

There is something every single one of these types of stories has in common – power.

From Trump grabbing women by the pussy, to Weinsein ruining carers of anyone who rejected his advances, to the men at the Presidents Club who told waitresses to ”down that glass [of champagne], rip off your knickers and dance on that table” to Boris Johnson, the magazine Editor putting his hand on Charlotte Edwards inner thigh when she was a journalist starting out – in each case the men concerned knew the women had more to lose by speaking out than they did if the women spoke out.

And, in every single case, you will see more comment about the women’s behaviour – before, during and after the incident then there is on the mans.

And this is why women don’t say anything at the time, and why they often wait until they themselves are in a more powerful position to say something.

Some men will continue to behave like this while society let’s them.

Observations Of Attending My First Iftar As A Non Muslim By Kelly Grehan

Last night I went to our local Mosque with some friends to experience Iftar. Before I went I thought I might write about that experience, but actually it is my journey there I want to discuss.

Before I went I visited a friend’s mum, who is a Muslim, and she fitted me with a head scarf. I then drove to the Mosque. As I walked the short distance to the car I became nervous about people staring at me and potentially shouting.

As I drove on I realised I needed petrol and so went to the petrol station. As I used the pump I could not shake the feeling that people were making assumptions about me and I felt slightly panicky.

As I queued up to pay in the petrol station I felt concerned about what people might say about me and was pleased to get back in the car.

Why did this worry overtake me?

Well reports have shown that Muslim women are the most likely to be the victims of hate crime, and awareness of that was certainly with me, I felt a real fear I could be the victim of such an attack.

To some degree the scarf, on one hand an innocuous piece of fabric, made me feel that I had put a target on myself.

I imagined, that if anything were to happen to me people would apportion blame to me because of what I was wearing. It was really insightful to experience how some Muslim women must feel whenever they leave the house.

Then there is the feeling of assumptions being made about me, based purely on what I was wearing.

This felt deeply uncomfortable, not least because it reminded me of how sometimes, try as I might not to, I make snap judgements about people based on what they are wearing too.

This was only a small experience but, it certainly gave me a new perception.