40 Days For Life and the pro-choice majority protesting their tactics

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A pro-choice protester sums up the jubilant mood in Bloomsbury. Slogan reads 'NO!! 40 Days For Life what are you doing? OMG so embarrassed' (Picture credit: Bim Adewunmi, @bimadew)

I’m going to go out on a limb and I say I don’t think enough has been written about the pro-choice protest I attended last Friday and the reasons behind it. True to form, it was covered in only The Guardian and The Huffington Post, and undoubtedly hit the feminist blogosphere with gusto – but why so much disinterest from the bigwigs? (Okay, don’t answer that, it’ll only bring home depressing truths about the mainstream media’s disengagement with weighty women’s issues.) However, I’d like to add my tuppence. As many of you will know, 40 days for Life, a pro-life organisation affiliated with a US operation by the same name, has been targeting anyone going in and out of abortion clinics in the UK. The two main clinics experiencing problems that I’ve read about are the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) in Bloomsbury, London and Wistons Clinic in Brighton. Women have reported harassment and intimidation tactics, including graphic pictures being held in front of them, being filmed and being given leaflets with false health scare claims on them, as well as the accompanying verbal tirade. One of the women quoted in the media as feeling ‘panicky’ after this experience was a rape survivor who had post-traumatic stress disorder. Why do we need to put women accessing a legal medical service through this?

I understand 40 Days for Life being against abortion if they genuinely believe a ball of cells is sacred and constitutes ‘life’. That’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their beliefs. I don’t believe that a ball of cells needs protection, but that’s really not the issue here. The issue I had, and the issue that I felt a lot of my fellow protesters had, was that 40 Days feel the need to make such a nuisance of themselves. They’re disrupting people doing their jobs and they’re harassing vulnerable women to the point where BPAS called for volunteer escorts to aid the women’s entry to the clinic. Our chants at the protest included ‘Stop harassing women’ and ‘Go pray somewhere else’ – and this is exactly my sentiment. Pray, believe what you will, but get your noses out of other people’s lives and leave them to make their own choices.

Unfortunately, making an informed choice is hard. Not everyone will feel an abortion they’ve had was the right decision. Not everyone will feel having kept a baby was the right decision. But we have to leave people to reach their own conclusions and trust them as adults to be able to do that. In helping them decide, qualified abortion counsellors give women a balanced view of both sides of the story. They represent the medical risks. A woman going into a clinic for an abortion should be armed with the best possible advice to make a decision. Unfortunately, with pro-life claims flying around of ‘100% risk of cancer’ and ‘psychiatric problems’ after abortions, let alone the recent Protection for the Society of Unborn Children misinformation fiasco, they’re at risk of going in more confused than informed. And don’t even get me started on Nadine Dorries.

40 Days for Life is a concerning group because of the involvement of respected community leader Alan Hopes, the Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, and his influence and supposed political standing. This is elevating an extremist minority to high profile pain-in-the-arses. The Guardian writes of fears that trainee doctors will be less likely to specialise in this area, while others fear that clinics will be forced to shut down as in the US. It’s so important that we don’t allow abortion to become politicised in the UK as it is in America. It’s so important that abortion is legal because of the dangers posed by backstreet abortions in countries where it is illegal and, inevitably, still sought. Personally, I struggle with protests a little. I’m not a naturally confrontational person. Shouting at people praying doesn’t feel quite right. But in this case, I couldn’t tear myself away. I could not leave until the last rosary was out of sight. It means too much for women in this country to have legal and safe access to abortion without fear of intimidation tactics and misinformation for me to back down.

More information on the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) can be found here and you can donate to ensure women receive informed, unbiased counselling and safe abortions, if they so decide, here.

An excellent comic outlining the ‘sneaky strategies used by the anti-abortion movement in the UK’ can be found here.

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