Human dignity after the EU referendum

In the volatile political, economic and social climate of post-referendum UK many of us are anxious and uncertain about the future. As a charity Birthrights did not take a position on the referendum and it would be wrong for us to do so now.

What is clear to me today is that we are presented with a range of opportunities at a challenging time. For some these are opportunities for division, discrimination, violence, extremism and hate. As an organisation founded on respect for basic human dignity, we deplore those who have exploited these opportunities and the acts of xenophobia, racism and violence we have seen over recent days. The murder of women’s rights champion Jo Cox MP is a tragic testament to the consequences of allowing these divisions to widen.

But this isn’t all that lies within reach. Whatever our beliefs (and however the consequences of last week’s vote unfold) there is now a chance to reinforce and promote another set of values: respect, dignity, equality, justice and fairness. The values of the human rights movement.

The need for an understanding of our human rights framework has never been greater. As we cast about for an anchor in this storm we can hold on to the legal protection of our rights as individuals and the specific provisions for vulnerable groups. These protections exists in UK law (particularly in the Human Rights Act 1998) at a European level (through the European Convention on Human Rights which is not directly threatened by our leaving the EU, contingent as it is on our membership of the Council of Europe) and at an international level.

The values that underpin the human rights movement and the legal scaffolding that gives them teeth are vital now more than ever. Yesterday the United Nations expressed “serious concern” about the impact of UK’s pre-existing austerity policies on the most marginalised and disadvantaged. As we face the prospect of further economic disruption and begin to imagine how this could affect vulnerable groups, it is important to know we are not in a vacuum. Our government has key human rights obligations and it must fulfil them.

With this in mind Birthrights will continue to defend the human rights of all childbearing women, with a particular focus on those vulnerable groups who need us most. Whatever the impact of the referendum on the NHS, on midwives, doctors or on the vulnerable migrant women whose risk of maternal death or stillbirth is so high, we will continue to advise women and families, champion their rights, inspire and train their caregivers and use the power of the law to protect them.

Pregnancy and childbirth are an intensely vulnerable time for an individual. The way they are treated during birth affects them at a time in their lives when their identities as mothers are being forged and when they are developing their relationship with the next generation. The long-term physical health of women and babies is at stake in the care they are given and women’s fundamental rights to human dignity and autonomy can be profoundly affected by their experience of maternity care.

Human dignity matters in the post-referendum UK. It should be the principle we live by and the basis of the world we aspire to live in. The safety, equality, respect and dignity of each woman during pregnancy and birth will always be a strong foundation for that aspiration.

Rebecca Schiller, CEO, Birthrights

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NHS charges threaten the health of pregnant migrants

A new report released this week by Doctors of the World has revealed the threat to the health of pregnant migrant women in the UK posed by NHS charging policies. The report found that two-thirds of pregnant users of the charity’s drop-in clinic in east London, who are mostly undocumented migrants or asylum seekers, had not received antenatal care until their second trimester. Half had no care for 20 weeks or longer. pregnant-migrant-NHS-chargesNearly a third of women in the report were billed for their maternity care, one as much as £6,000.

‘These findings indicate an unacceptable inequality in our health system,’ Lucy Jones, an author of the study, says. ‘We must continue to improve access to healthcare for all mothers regardless of their wealth or immigration status.’ The average time the women in the report had been in the UK before becoming pregnant was longer than 5 years, debunking the myth of ‘health tourists’.

Maternity care in the UK is classified as ‘immediately necessary’ by the Department of Health and cannot be denied to any woman regardless of her means to pay for care. However, charges are imposed on those who are not ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK and hospitals often pursue unpaid fees by means of debt collection. As the report states, NHS charges often deter vulnerable women from seeking care in pregnancy and can lead to undiagnosed health conditions and serious childbirth complications for woman and baby. One of the women in the report lost her premature baby after she did not access maternity care for 7 months.

In the past year, Birthrights has been receiving increasing numbers of enquiries from women who have been charged for the care. In many of these cases the charges have been levied unlawfully and contrary to government guidance. It appears that the funding crisis in the NHS and the focus on so-called ‘health tourism’ is leading to unjustified and oppressive charging decisions by NHS Trusts.

Our factsheet on foreign nationals and maternity care explains the legal position. Further information is also available via Maternity Action.

For further information or advice on NHS charges, please contact us: info@birthrights.org.uk.

 

 

 

When maternity doesn’t matter – new report shows how badly we are failing vulnerable pregnant women

We are failing the most vulnerable pregnant women in our society. Women who have experienced serious trauma and abuse in their home countries, who often have underlying health conditions, and who are in the UK seeking refuge and protection. The report published today by the Refugee Council and Maternity Action explains how we take these women and “disperse” them around the country during their pregnancy. Women within days of giving birth are uprooted from the communities who support them, from the fathers of their children, and from the health professionals who have cared for them. The UK Border Agency policy that permits such mistreatment is a national disgrace.

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At the launch of the report tonight in the Houses of Parliament, Sethu, one of the women featured in the report, spoke about how she had been sent from Leeds, her home of 8 years, across the country shortly before she gave birth, away from her partner, her specialist midwife, her charitable support worker and her NCT classes. She managed to return to Leeds to give birth but under pressure from UKBA she discharged herself early to return to her new accommodation. She contracted an infection and was admitted to a local hospital which refused to allow her to see her newborn baby except during prescribed visiting hours.

The report is full of similar stories. It helps us understand how it is that refugee women are 6 times more likely to die in childbirth than British women. And as obstetrician Daghni Rajasingham said at the event tonight, there is simply no reason for such an arbitrary dispersal policy that has clear economic as well as human costs.

It should galvanise every one of us who cares about women’s rights to take action to change UKBA policy. Join the campaign.

Victory for pregnant claimant in use of force case

Following previous posts on this issue, we are very pleased to hear that UKBA has conceded that it, and its private contractors, cannot use force against children and pregnant women in the absence of a policy on the use of force.

Four Claimants – a pregnant woman and three children – brought a judicial review on behalf of all children and pregnant women within the immigration system, challenging the legality of the UKBA’s practice of using force against these them in the absence of any clear policy limiting its use.
Shortly before the hearing for an injunction in the High Court on Friday, the UKBA re-published an old policy addressing the use of force against pregnant women and children. That policy prohibits the use of force save where absolutely necessary to prevent harm.

The Royal College of Midwives gave a witness statement in the legal proceedings. They said: “The Royal College of Midwives believes the restraint of pregnant women and children is an antiquated practice that shames us all. Midwives must serve all mothers and babies regardless of their immigration status.”

UKBA’s climb-down avoided the need for the court to extend an injunction which the Claimants had obtained in early February from Mr Justice Collins which prevented the use of force save to prevent harm occurring. In court before Mr Justice Turner on Friday, UKBA accepted that it is necessary for a policy to be in place and announced that they had published a policy today on UKBA’s website. Mr Justice Turner stated that there needed to be an immediate consultation on the terms of the policy applying to children and pregnant women.