Awards row escalates as top charity stages last-minute boycott
See the full exchange of letters below.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service has withdrawn its entry in the 2017 Public Affairs Awards in protest at the inclusion of a controversial anti-abortion campaign on the shortlists.
The director of external affairs at the leading provider of abortion services in the UK is one of five senior campaigners to have written to PRCA director general Francis Ingham to express “profound disappointment” at the prospect of Both Lives Matter winning a gong this week.
The fresh backlash comes after PAN revealed last week that organisers of the awards were refusing to bow to demands from London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign for Both Lives Matters to be removed from the shortlist for the Best Campaign in Northern Ireland. As the only organisation in the running for the gong, it is expected to win by default.
The latest letter is co-signed by senior figures at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Antenatal Results and Choices, Abortion Support Network, Birthrights and the sexual health charity FPA.
It states 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”.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service was one of seven organisations in the running for Voluntary Campaign of the Year. But it is withdrawing its awards entry as it “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,” the letter adds. The awards are due to take place tomorrow (14 December).
In his response to the letter, Ingham stressed that the awards were jointly organised by the PRCA, Government Knowledge, and Zetters’ Political Services.
He added: “Whilst I appreciate that you disagree fundamentally with the work of Both Lives Matter, I would hope that you might consider that the Public Affairs Awards is recognising Both Lives Matter in the same spirit of democratic freedom within which that organisation may campaign as freely as organisations like bpas, FPA, Antenatal Results and Choices, Abortion Support Network, and Birthrights.”
THE LETTERS IN FULL
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. Everyday, 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.
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
Dear Ms Murphy
Thank you for your letter.
The organisers of the Public Affairs Awards - being the PRCA, Government Knowledge, and Zetters’ Political Services – launched the awards four years ago with the aim of covering the diverse breadth of public affairs activity in the UK. The campaigning work that we have showcased and celebrated since the awards launched has covered numerous viewpoints on often controversial issues, as you would hope and expect from an awards ceremony of this type.
It is for that reason that we would never ‘endorse’ any of the campaign viewpoints that are shortlisted. If we were to, then we would be endorsing multiple pieces of work that promote often directly competing aims -which would be absurd. Your own shortlisting at the same awards event as Both Lives Matter is clear evidence of our objective stance.
It is very important to state: we do not require entries to be in accordance with the judges’ personal views. The judges consider only the ingenuity and effectiveness of the campaigning work itself. For that reason, it is completely incorrect to claim that we are endorsing ‘the denial of healthcare and human rights’.
Whilst I appreciate that you disagree fundamentally with the work of Both Lives Matter, I would hope that you might consider that the Public Affairs Awards is recognising Both Lives Matter in the same spirit of democratic freedom within which that organisation may campaign as freely as organisations like bpas, FPA, Antenatal Results and Choices, Abortion Support Network, and Birthrights.
It is important to note that Both Lives Matters’ work is in accordance with the current laws of Northern Ireland, and for that reason we could never allow it to be precluded from being considered for an award.
I would also like to state that I have not received any letter from London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and Alliance for Choice. I know that a wide range of people within the public affairs industry have received emails, but I am not one of them. We replied via press release after London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign tweeted their views, which seemed an appropriate way to respond.
I note with regret the withdrawal of your entry.
Director General, PRCA