‘I have been cruelly abused because I’m pregnant. But bullies will NEVER silence me’: Brutally targeted this week by anti-abortionists, MP STELLA CREASY shares her anger – and the heartbreak of suffering two miscarriages
- Labour MP Stella Creasy has been targeted by the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform
- She believes the harassment is happening because she’s 30 weeks pregnant
- The 42-year-old spent four years trying for a child, suffering two miscarriages
- She spoke about planning to cover her workload while on maternity leave
- Stella revealed her drive to not let the people of Walthamstow down
At the weekend, Labour MP Stella Creasy, who is 30 weeks pregnant, received a tweet from anti-abortion campaigners to say they were coming to her London constituency ‘to educate the people of Walthamstow about what she stood for’. She immediately phoned the police and her local council.
On Saturday, she began hearing from alarmed shoppers in the area of a group handing out leaflets in front of a huge mobile poster with her face on it, next to a picture of a dead foetus. There were other messages online: ‘Your MP is working hard to take away my human rights.’
Overnight, another vast poster was put up on the side of a building with StopStella.com printed on it and the same message as before, alongside a picture of what purported to be a ‘nine-week living foetus’.
‘I was getting calls from people saying their children were crying, asking, “What is it?” It was clearly not a nine-week foetus but a much older one.’ Stella campaigned for terminations in Northern Ireland to be seen as a medical matter, not a legal one, for years.
Labour MP Stella Creasy, 42, (pictured) who has been targeted by anti-abortionist campaigners, explained why she refuses to be silenced
In July MPs approved an amendment she proposed to extend abortion rights there — the only part of the UK where it remained illegal.
She knows she is being targeted now precisely because she is carrying a child: ‘One of the images, I am sure, was chosen because it was around the same gestation as my own baby,’ she tells me. ‘Do they think my work campaigning for women to be supported through abortion means I have to abort my own baby?’
Stella, like so many female MPs, is used to harassment. One man was jailed for 18 weeks after retweeting messages threatening to rape her. His abuse had been so relentless, she had to have a panic button installed in her home.
Continual death and rape threats have come from other trolls. A restraining order has been placed on one woman who sent her messages every day for 18 months. Another stalker, who’d harassed her for ten years, was convicted in June.
But this latest campaign — by the UK branch of the American anti-abortion group, Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform — she says is particularly vile. ‘It’s disgusting and deeply upsetting, but if they think they are going to silence me, they are wrong.’
Police have refused to act, she says, largely because there is no clear legislation stating this is a hate crime. She adds that two home secretaries have told her the law is there to deal with situations like this — and yet the intimidation goes on.
‘I am in no doubt that this is trying to incite violence. I have been told leaflets and posters are “passive”, but this is targeting me on a personal level. I believe passionately in free speech, but you have to conduct yourself in a way that is reasonable.
‘How can this not be a hate crime? My staff were told it is because I am having a baby. If this was about my sexuality or my skin colour then it would be clear it is a hate crime. And yet it is about me as a woman.
Stella has been accused of trying to take away human rights, a banner recently appeared of a ‘nine-week living foetus’ with the words StopStella.com
‘We need a better understanding of what harassment is and we need to make misogyny a hate crime too.’
Stella does not know what she can do about the position of local police but the people of Walthamstow and the council, however, have stood full square behind her: Within hours of the poster’s appearance someone had whitewashed it.
The latest campaign against Stella should be viewed alongside her own devastating back story.
She has spent four years trying to become a mother, suffering at least two miscarriages. Both happened very close to the 12-week hurdle — the moment when expectant mothers get to send excited emails and texts to friends and loved ones, and allow themselves to start thinking of the new life that awaits them.
‘Miscarriage really does rip your soul,’ Stella says. ‘The second time I was already anxious because of what had happened before. But [as the weeks passed] it was going so well. I was hoping and hoping, and then I did start to think, “Actually, perhaps this time I don’t need to worry”. And then it went wrong.’
Her most recent miscarriage happened last year. She went for a scan with her partner of 13 years, Dan Fox, only to be told the foetus no longer had a heartbeat. Women who have suffered miscarriage will know how awful this news is. It was another hope gone. Devastated, she cried.
‘Of course, I blamed myself. Of course I thought, “What did I do wrong? What is wrong with me physically that might make this happen?”
‘I come from a very loving and supportive family and my mum and dad were super excited and therefore you feel the pain [for them too].
‘I know my partner will make an amazing father, so when it doesn’t of course you feel devastated and, of course, you blame yourself.’
Stella (pictured) who is 30 weeks pregnant, has spent four years trying to become a mother while experiencing at least two miscarriages
After her first miscarriage in 2016, even though bleeding and suffering contractions, she joined a protest outside the Indian High Commission to extradite a man who had raped and murdered a constituent.
She scheduled the necessary medical procedure for a day she didn’t have a constituency advice surgery.
Stella adopted this ‘business as usual’ approach because, she says, she was in so much distress, she didn’t know how to talk about it. Last year, too, after finding out her baby’s heart was no longer beating, she went back to her constituency and chaired a public meeting about knife crime.
‘I thought, “I’m not going to let the people of Walthamstow down”, so I stood in front of hundreds of them knowing my baby had died inside me, thinking, “but what really matters now is tackling knife crime”.
‘I’m not saying keeping going is the right thing to do, but that was the thing I chose to do.’
Now Stella, 42, is starting to feel hopeful about the new life she is carrying. ‘I’m a positively geriatric first-time mum,’ she says, a smile spreading across her face.
The baby is more than twice as developed as her lost babies, and if born today — heaven forbid — would stand a good chance of survival.
During this pregnancy, she has taken a friend’s advice and stopped watching the TV fly-on-the-wall maternity ward series One Born Every Minute. ‘She said, “Stella, step away from it. It won’t help your anxiety”.’
Despite her ordeal this week, Stella is clearly thrilled and, to use that old-fashioned word, ‘blooming’. But her fears persist.
She says: ‘I haven’t allowed myself to think it will be OK. When I talk to other women, they get it. It’s not that I’m not excited. I’m hugely excited by the possibility that this pregnancy will work, but I’m also cautious as I know that pain that comes when you lose the hope. It would be disrespectful to other women who’ve been in my position to pretend I’m not anxious.
‘I have to manage my anxiety by letting myself think the worst and I’ll do that until the baby is born.
‘It would be inhuman not to be emotional about something like that. The point is whether or not you are aware of your emotions and able to deal with them. But I am.’
Every time she has a scan, she cries with relief. ‘I feel so sorry for the sonographers.’
Stella (pictured) approached the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to ask for a paid locum in June
Stella does not want to reveal whether this pregnancy required medical intervention, out of respect for Dan, but says: ‘It’s been a longer process than perhaps either of us had imagined.’
Even the worst bits of carrying what she calls her Brexit Baby (due to timing, not ideology) feel like a blessing. ‘I’m very clumsy.I’m tired, but then that’s me anyway. And I’m hot. And I’m craving milky things: rice pudding, custard. Don’t leave a bowl of cream in front of me because it will be gone in five minutes. ‘I’ve relied on my really good friends and they’ve put up with me asking crazy questions about their own pregnancies. There are people out there who can be your rock.’
She has also joined a walking group in her constituency for pregnant mums and new mums ‘because being a politician is a bit of an endurance task anyway and as an older mum I’m trying to keep fit.’ In fact, until recently, there has only been one problem. The Commons does not give female members — or men for that matter — paid parental cover.
MPs like Stella ‘and I’m not alone’ can take six months off with full pay and vote by proxy, but during this time their constituency goes unrepresented. Case work piles up on their desks, unread. Stella found herself asking: ‘Why shouldn’t I enjoy my baby for six months without feeling like I’ve let Walthamstow down?’
In June, she went public by approaching the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to ask for a paid locum, the first request it had ever received.
She figured a stand-in should be paid (as in the Civil Service and in most corporate environments), so her workload could be covered in her absence. ‘My mum, who was a special school head teacher, is an amazing woman. She combined that with being a mother. It never once occurred to me that you couldn’t live life to its fullest.
‘And yet when I talked to the parliamentary authorities, it was like, “Well, this doesn’t happen”.’
She told them that of course it does happen, but until now, women have just put up with it.
In January, her colleague Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, postponed a caesarean section to vote in the debate on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Days after her baby was born, she had to return to case work. Some female MPs have taken precious time with their babies, praying their constituents don’t notice, while others try to breastfeed during meetings.
‘Given I’ve worked so hard to get this baby, it seems a shame to then say, “OK, I’m not going to spend any time with it”,’ says Stella.
Stella (pictured) admits that she will stand as an MP again, despite not entirely agreeing with any Labour leader
‘And this isn’t just about me. We shouldn’t be asking women to choose between being a new mum and being a good constituency MP.’
In a landmark decision, IPSA has agreed that her maternity leave can be covered, ‘so I’ll be advertising for the first-ever locum for an MP.’ However, IPSA maintains a case-by-case approach. Stella says what is needed is a policy.
Maternity cover is as important for attracting a new generation of female MPs, she says, as campaigning for earlier voting sessions or the ability to vote from home.
‘You have good days and bad days,’ she says of her job.
‘But rather than asking women how they cope, we should be saying, “Who thinks this is acceptable?”
‘Because there are many extraordinary women out there who we [as a country] are missing out on [because of their fear], and because we just say, “Oh well, that’s politics, isn’t it?”
‘It’s a fight. I’m not prepared to live in Gilead [the misogynist state in Margaret Atwood novel The Handmaid’s Tale]. These people are not going to win. They’re just not going to win.’
Within Labour, too, from the far- Left Momentum wing, she has encountered put-downs and misogyny. However, her loyalty to the party remains, although it is not the one she joined at 16.
‘Let me be honest, I’ve never entirely agreed with any Labour leader. Today is no different.
‘Am I up for the fight? At the moment, yes. Who knows what I will feel in the future? I’ve said I’m going to stand as an MP again. There is so much more we can change, and change can take a bloody long time.’
Stella says there has been no shortage of offers from constituents to help with childcare after she returns to work.
Add to that her hands-on partner Dan, ‘the kindest, cleverest man I know’, and her close-knit family, and there can be little doubt she will excel at juggling work with parenthood.
‘My mum said to me that maybe now, having a baby, I might stop for a moment. I suspect that is not true. She didn’t stop.’
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