Councillor bravely tells how she felt she had no choice but to have an abortion

Camden Council passes emergency motion condemning outlawing of terminations in the US

Tuesday, 5th July — By Richard Osley


Jenny Headlam-Wells on her feet in the council chamber last night

A FORMER mayor of Camden last night (Monday) bravely recounted her own personal experience when she felt she had no other choice but to have an abortion.

Jenny Headlam-Wells told of how her first son had died when he was just six years old due to a rare condition and – after discovering the same genetic issue – she did not want a second boy to have the same painfully short life.

“It’s not a pleasant experience,” she said. “Some people seem to talk as if this is a holiday, and that we need to deprive women of this pleasure.”

“A couple of the older members of the chamber will remember the mantra from second wave feminism, that events from women’s lives are written on their bodies – or the French version, inscribed on their bodies. I think there is no better case or example of this than being forced to have a termination.”

She was speaking as the council passed an ’emergency motion’ condemning the outlawing of abortion in some US states.

Camden’s text said it was calling for the “full implementation of access to safe and legal abortion care across the UK”, “condemning the ruling by the United States Supreme Court”  and resolved to lobby national government to directly introduce legislation “that enables local authorities to introduce ‘buffer zones’ specifically around abortion clinics and related services”.

Last week, all female councillors shared these sentiments in a powerful joint letter to the New Journal and the motion had backing from all four parties represented in the council chamber.

Cllr Headlam-Wells said personal experiences could illustrate the weight of an issue and said this was why she was sharing the trauma she had been through.

“I was very fortunate I had a son – and then about 19 months later, a daughter,” she told the room.

“But sadly when our first son was six, we got the diagnosis that he had a very rare and terminal illness called adrenoleukodystrophy. Mothers can be carriers but it only affects boys. It turned out I wasn’t a carrier but there was something called a mutation which comes just out of the blue.”

She said she was warned at the time that the same could happen again to another son.

After testing and finding out that she was pregnant with a boy she said she had been left feeling like she had to have an abortion, telling fellow councillors: “Unfortunately I had to have a very late termination at 19 weeks, which is halfway through a pregnancy, because it would not have been possible… I certainly wouldn’t be prepared to take the risk of having a son that chance could dictate would be with us for six years and then be gone.”

She added: “Very sadly, when I was involved in a charity linked to bereavement, we heard of some families who had three or even four sons [with adrenoleukodystrophy] – and once the first child had been diagnosed they knew that boy two, boy three, boy four would at some point be diagnosed. It’s a degenerative disease, you can’t fail to notice it,”

Things changed for Cllr Headlam-Wells when scientists developed pre-natal tests to see if the condition was likely, first at a lab in Baltimore and now undertaken at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

When she fell pregnant again, she received encouraging advice.

“The good news was that it was a male child who was healthy and did not have the disease – so I was able to have a second son, and that baby is now 36-years-old,” she said.

“Genetic problems don’t just stop. Our daughter had to have a carrier test and luckily she was one stage further away and fortunately she wasn’t a carrier.”

Cllr Headlam-Wells said: “I understand that in some American states all terminations will be banned even if there is a child who is likely to die at birth or die after six or seven years. This is absolutely appalling and speaking from personal experience I would not want anyone to go through that.”

Abortions are to become illegal in at least 26 of the US states after the Supreme Court’s overturning of the landmark Roe versus Wade case last month. The 5o-year-old ruling had granted women the right to terminate a pregnancy.

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