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Campaigners dispute award evaluation theory

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bpas, letter Francis Ingham, best campaign, objection, abortion, Northern Ireland, human rightsJudges in the Public Affairs Awards evaluate entries based on the quality of the work delivered, and on nothing else’.

An organisation called ‘Both Lives Matter’ was shortlisted for a “best campaign”  in the Public Affairs Awards due to take place on 14 December for its work campaigning to maintain Northern Ireland’s virtual ban on abortion.

In a letter sent to the awards organisers, the news page of the Public Affairs website reported, the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign objected to this, and said: “As pro-choice advocates we are surprised and disappointed to see a campaign of this nature being given such a significant platform.

“’Both Lives Matter’ is a group which supports Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion laws, disseminates misleading information and rejects evidence-based research on reproductive health.

“Its very title is a cynical twist on Black Lives Matter, a campaign aimed at highlighting gross injustice and inequality…

“If you and your organisation are serious about promoting the power of diverse, progressive lobbying, then it is utterly misleading to showcase a deeply-flawed campaign, which actively contributes to the oppression of, discrimination against and harm to, women and girls.”

The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign calls for the repeal of the 8th Amendment from the Irish constitution and campaigns for access to free safe legal abortion in Ireland and Northern Ireland: Northern Ireland does not allow abortion in cases of rape, incest, or when a serious foetal abnormality has been diagnosed.

Their letter also pointed out that ’Both Lives Matter’ recently refused to engage with a committee that has been set up to examine the Republic of Ireland’s ban on abortion, which also prohibits the procedure in almost all circumstances.

The letter concluded by urging organisers to withdraw Both Lives Matter from the shortlist.

But Francis Ingham, director general of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), said there were no plans to take such action.

“Judges in the Public Affairs Awards evaluate entries based on the quality of the work delivered, and on nothing else,” he said.

“Public affairs campaigns often address controversial topics, and most people would view this one as such.

“But controversial campaigns have the right to be judged on the same impartial basis as any others, and this was the case when judges considered entries into the Best Campaign in Northern Ireland category of the Public Affairs Awards 2017.”

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), the Family Planning Association (FPA), the Abortion Support Network (ASN), Birthrights and Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) – who are all interveners in a case currently before Supreme Court on whether Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breach human rights – then wrote to Francis Ingham, the Director General of the  in support of their London Irish sisters to express their disappointment at the decision – and bpas withdraw from the event.

They also explained the consequences that the ban on abortion has on the women they provide care, advice and support to every day.

And they supported their colleagues at Alliance For Choice and the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, who had asked Ingham to reconsider the decision to honour a group which seeks to deny women and girls access to basic reproductive healthcare.

The text of the letter runs:

Dear Mr Ingham,

We write to you as providers of services and support to women from Northern Ireland to express our profound disappointment at your decision to award the honour of “best campaign in Northern Ireland” to Both Lives Matter, an organisation which campaigns in favour of the continued denial of women’s reproductive healthcare in Northern Ireland.

You have, of course, every right to award any honour to whomsoever you please, but we feel it is important that you and your colleagues are fully apprised of exactly what you are celebrating.

We agree wholeheartedly with the points made in the joint letter London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and Alliance for Choice sent to you on 8th December, which highlighted that Both Lives Matter seeks to entrench discrimination against women and girls through denying access to abortion care, and disseminates misleading information about reproductive health.

We understand you have not responded personally to the letter, but via a press release in which you described the work of Both Lives Matters as merely “controversial” and that awards are handed out on the basis of the “quality of the work delivered”.

As organisations which witness the consequences of refusing women from Northern Ireland access to abortion, we wanted to alert you to the situation in Northern Ireland that Both Lives Matter’s “work” seeks to maintain.

Every day, women from Northern Ireland faced with a pregnancy they cannot continue must find the funds to make the journey to Britain – often alone and in strict secrecy – or order abortion pills illegally online.

They will be women in a myriad of situations, but will include victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, very young women and women who have been given the devastating news that something is seriously wrong with a much wanted pregnancy.

Thanks to the phenomenal campaigning work of groups such as the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and Alliance for Choice this year, these women can now have their treatment paid for in Britain, but for some the burden of travel will remain too great.

Women who are caught using pills bought online risk prosecution and punishment under laws passed in 1861, which stipulate that any woman who ends a pregnancy can be sentenced to life in prison.

The use of abortifacient medication is safe, peer-reviewed, and medically approved. Mifepristone and misoprostol are recommended by the World Health Organisation as a “safe option for women” and online pills when sourced from reputable providers such as Women on Web are both reliable and safe.

However, the criminal prohibition on abortion can deter women from seeking in-person medical support if they need it after taking this medication.

You may not be aware that since last year, three people have been through the courts, and one case against a mother of a teenage daughter is still ongoing.

From October 24th to October 26th, all of our organisations intervened in a Supreme Court case, in which we provided evidence that Northern Ireland’s existing restrictive abortion contravenes Articles 3, 8 and 14 on the European Convention on Human Rights as it does not allow abortion in cases of rape, incest, or when a serious foetal abnormality has been diagnosed. A verdict is currently pending.

It is also the case that, through concluding observations, general recommendations and case law, multiple UN Treaty Monitoring Bodies have criticised State Parties, including the UK, when governments do not ensure access to lawful abortion.

These findings and recommendations have been based upon the human rights to life, health, private and family life and non-discrimination, and the freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

This clearly demonstrates that ‘Both Lives Matter’ cannot be dismissed as merely ‘controversial’.

By recognising this campaign in a Public Affairs Award, the Public Relations and Communications Association is providing an endorsement for the denial of healthcare and human rights.

bpas was delighted to have been shortlisted for our campaign to reduce the inflated price of emergency contraception, but under the circumstances no longer wants recognition from an organisation which is also happy to celebrate the systematic suppression of the rights of women and girls to basic healthcare.

Please accept this letter as notice of the withdrawal of our entry.

Yours sincerely,

Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs, bpas

Ruairi Rowan, Senior Advocacy Officer in Northern Ireland, and Laura Russell, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, FPA

Jane Fisher, Antenatal Results and Choices

Mara Clarke, founder and director, Abortion Support Network

Rebecca Schiller, chief executive, Birthrights.

As the only organisation in the running for the award, as the Public Affairs article remarked, ‘Both Lives Matter’ is now expected to win by default.

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