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1 December 2011

Anti-abortion protests

Clare Murphy, Director of Press and Public Policy, discusses the compassion deficit exhibited by protestors outside abortion clinics in Britain.

When an activist from a local church recorded a day campaigning against abortion outside our Brighton centre earlier this year, they concluded the most challenging part:

‘was the girl visiting Wistons with two of her friends. She just found out she was pregnant – 5 months pregnant – and was returning to the clinic for an abortion. The girl didn’t want to see anything or engage in conversation…Whilst we were able to persuade her friends to look at our information the mother of this unsuspecting child refused to look at anything we had no matter how innocuous. Sometimes it seems in order to go through with killing their unborn children, people must shut down certain normal functions of compassion, logic and reason.’

If ever there were pots and kettles, this writer might well fit the bill – happy to pontificate on their own struggles with a woman considering abortion without a flicker of interest or concern as to how it might
feel to be that young woman, on that day, descended upon by a group of people who felt at liberty to tell her what she was doing was wrong - despite not knowing the first thing about her and her own
very personal circumstances. Indeed there appear to be a burgeoning number of anti-abortion activists who are running short on either compassion or the ability to differentiate logically between a campaign
to alter public opinion on abortion and one that simply seeks to hector and distress individual women as they try to access advice and services.

BPAS is seeing an increase in anti-abortion activity in London and the South-East. The 40 Days for Life protest which ran up to the start of November at one stage saw more than 30 people lined up on the
square in front our central London clinic, staring (but apparently there to ‘help’ ) while their colleagues by our door harangued clients. At least one woman was escorted into the building by a concerned passerby. And clearly unconstrained by the title of their protest, on Day 50 activists were still turning up and declaring that they intended to appear every week. At our South London centre, activists man the gates on a regular basis, and have followed women down the drive telling them ‘you’re killing’, while in Brighton women are regularly encircled, questioned, and graphic material pushed into their hands.

We know women are not china dolls who will automatically crack under the pressure of a graphic leaflet, the sight of 30 people watching them as they enter a clinic, or even being followed down a road and
called a killer. But why should they have to tolerate this as they access healthcare services to which they are legally entitled? We believe if these activists had any sense of compassion, morality or justice, they would take their protest to the court of public opinion – not linger at gates and doorways to target individual women whose personal circumstances and choices they have no interest in or understanding of.

As one woman wrote to us recently after making her way past activists: ‘They are not going to change anyone’s mind, they simply magnify the distress felt by the woman a thousandfold. Maybe this is what they want.’

This article appears in the Winter 2011 print edition of Abortion Review. Download this edition for free here.

Read Clare Murphy’s BPAS blog here.