• Texas-founded anti-abortion group 40 Days for Life will hold a series of “vigils” outside several British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) clinics, which provide pregnancy counselling, contraception, miscarriage management and abortion care
• Tomorrow marks the start of the 40-day long vigils, which will take place outside BPAS clinics in Norwich, Doncaster, Cardiff, Bournemouth and Portsmouth
• BPAS’s Back Off campaign calls for local councils and the government to introduce specific legislation – as has been enacted in other countries – to create buffer zones outside clinics where anti-abortion activity cannot take place
• Several councils across the country have already voted in favour of buffer zones, whilst the Home Office has launched a national review into abortion clinic protests
Local branches of the USA anti-choice group 40 Days for Life have planned a series of protests, beginning on 14 February, to be held outside BPAS clinics in Norwich, Doncaster, Cardiff, Bournemouth and Portsmouth. The Texas-founded group describes itself as “the beginning of the end of abortion” and coordinates protests directly outside family planning clinics all over the world, stating its mission is “to seek God’s favor to turn hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life”.
BPAS’s Back Off campaign calls for local councils and the government to introduce specific legislation – as has been enacted in other countries – to create buffer zones around clinics where anti-abortion protests cannot take place. This would ensure women can access legal abortion services free from interference or harassment.
Several local councils across the country have voted to explore options to create a buffer zone. Meanwhile, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has launched an in-depth, national review, saying,
“It is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare advice and treatment.”
Women who have encountered protests while attending BPAS clinics have reported that these groups have left them feeling distressed and fearful on what can already be a difficult day. BPAS patients who have been exposed to previous 40 Days for Life protests have reported the following:
“They were stood right next to the entrance in a large group, holding signs & banners. It was provocative & intimidating. It was very upsetting while I felt very upset anyway. I felt attacked on a decision which was very difficult.”
"They were trying to hand out clay babies, told me I shouldn't go into the clinic, told me God would punish me. I felt angry, upset and guilty."
“It made me angry as I came down with my 15 year old granddaughter and I don't want her to feel bad for what she has decided to do.”
Marc Rolph, Treatment Unit Manager at BPAS Norwich, said,
“This is not about the morality of abortion. This is about women accessing legal advice and services – they need to be able to reach our clinics in confidence and without judgement when they need us.”
Adele Warton, Client Care Manager at BPAS Bournemouth, said,
“Many of our clients who encounter protesters on their way into the clinic arrive very distressed. Some have received verbal abuse and many more feel intimidated. BPAS staff at the unit do an excellent job with supporting these clients and their escorts, but we all feel very frustrated that under the current laws we are unable take any action or prevent these protestors from having such an impact.”
BPAS has made it clear that they are not seeking to shut down the debate on abortion, but stated that the right to protest must be balanced with the right of pregnant women to obtain advice and treatment in confidence and free from intimidation. The charity believes that for those who wish to campaign to restrict women’s reproductive choices, there are plenty of locations and situations in which it is appropriate to do so – but targeting individual women as they access health services is not one of them.
Notes to Editors:
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bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.