The UK campaigns for safe abortions for women around the world, while allowing a ban in Northern Ireland and colluding with DUP, writes Susan Dalgety.
A pregnant Meghan Markle is making headlines again. The Duchess of Sussex has decided on a private birth for her first child, probably at home, instead of the prestigious St Mary’s Hospital in central London, as favoured by her sister-in-law Kate.
In what has been described by royal watchers as a “bold” move, she wants to avoid “the goldfish bowl” of a hospital maternity ward, even one as exclusive as St Mary’s Lindo Ward.
Wherever she ends up giving birth, she will not enjoy the privacy she craves. She may have rejected posing for the now traditional photo-op within 24 hours of giving birth, looking impossibly slim and impeccably groomed, but speculation about her labour, and the new baby, will be as high as it was when its cousins were born.
More so perhaps, as the Duchess is bi-racial. There will be screaming headlines asking if the poor mite has inherited its father’s ginger hair, or its mother’s genes. Britain may be an increasingly diverse country, but the addition of an African American career women to the Royal Family seems to have sent some sections of the media slightly mad.
Sadly, its early love affair with the former Suits star burned out faster than most Tinder hook-ups. Immediately following Meghan’s fairytale wedding to her handsome prince, with its fabulous gospel choir and black preacher, her stock began to plummet.
“She has fallen out with her sainted sister-in-law Kate,” whispered sources, well-placed or not. “She is too demanding,” said others, as if knowing one’s one mind was a bad thing.
Her pregnancy has been dissected more forensically than the Brexit backstop, with everything from her choice of clothes to her baby shower under close scrutiny. Her worst offence? Touching her baby bump too often and too publicly, which is a really bad thing apparently.
And her decision to have the kind of birth she wants, and not the one protocol, and the tabloids, demand is final proof for some that she is a crazy Californian who has duped good ole’ Harry with her siren ways.
Meghan is finding out what generations of women before her discovered once puberty set in. Our bodies, particularly our reproductive system, are public property. Everyone, it seems, has a view about how best a woman should give birth, whether she is a successful, mature woman or a teenage single mum.
And despite abortion becoming legal in 1967, a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have a child remains precarious, with regular demands from pro-life campaigners to lower the time limit for a termination from 24 weeks to as low as 12.
“That is the right point,” opined wannabe Prime Minister Jeremy Hunt when he was Health Secretary. Mr Hunt has never endured the emotional agony of a missed period, but he, like many men, clearly feels that he has the moral right to dictate to women what they choose to do with their body.
And while abortion is legal in Scotland, England and Wales, across the water in Northern Ireland it remains a crime, except under very few circumstances.
Even rape and incest are not deemed sufficient reason for a women to have a termination in the land time forgot. A teenage girl, raped by her father, must give birth to her own sister, according to the hard-line, hard-hearted people who police Northern Ireland’s morality.
And in a region, that only a generation ago saw 3,000 of its citizens murdered in the name of religion, a woman who is gang-raped is expected to carry her attacker’s child.
Theresa May, desperate to cling on to the qualified support of a grim-faced Arlene Foster, has colluded with the Democratic Unionist MPs in Westminster to prevent changes to Northern Ireland’s Victorian abortion law, one of the strictest in the world. Have you no shame, Prime Minister?
Meanwhile, the UK government, through the Department for International Development, campaigns for safe abortions for women around the world.
“Women everywhere deserve control over their futures,” tweeted @DFID_UK earlier this week in support of a new campaign by Marie Stopes International. Women everywhere, except, that it is, women and girls from Belfast, Bangor or Ballymena.
But while an unwanted pregnancy can be a life-destroying experience, even the most eagerly anticipated birth can be life ending.
Pre-eclampsia is a condition of pregnancy that can cause strokes and seizures in women, and can even kill the mother or her baby.
I was unlucky enough to endure it during both my pregnancies. I spent the last two months of the first confined to a hospital bed, unable to even wash my own hair for fear of triggering a seizure. My second child almost died at birth.
In the UK, about one in ten pregnancies each year – 80,000 women – are affected by the disease, but a new blood test – PIGF – could significantly reduce the risk of death or brain damage in women.
It is to be rolled out across England after a successful trial involving 1,000 women from 11 maternity hospitals.
“The evidence shows that widespread PIGF testing could save lives, and it is fantastic news that NHS England agree,” said Professor Lucy Chappell, an obstetrics expert who led the trial.
Fantastic news indeed, but the Scottish Government has still to decide whether to follow in England’s example and invest in the simple blood test.
Labour’s health spokesperson Monica Lennon has asked the government if it has plans to introduce testing, and an answer is expected by the end of the month.
Surely the response from Health Secretary Jeane Freeman will be a resounding, “yes, of course we will, immediately”. Anything less would be a betrayal of all pregnant women. Baby boxes are all very well, but if it comes to a choice between a free baby-gro or a simple life-saving procedure, I know which one I would prefer my Scottish income tax spent on.
The week ended with the shocking news that the peerless Jackie Bird has left Reporting Scotland after 30 years of telling Scotland what’s going on.
I can’t imagine Scottish news without her calm, sometimes slightly amused, always authoritative, delivery. She carved out a successful career in an industry, which until very recently, was dominated by men, and she did it with panache.
The good news is that she is not leaving the BBC, but is planning to produce and present longer programmes.
She could always start with one about a woman’s right to choose, from where we give birth to if we give birth.