This week, Back Off Scotland, a group campaigning for the implementation of 150-metre buffer zones around clinics providing abortion services, launched their first nation-wide petition. It comes as 40 Days For Life, a Texas-founded pro-life (or more fittingly, anti-choice) group, begins their first set of 40-day protests this year for Lent. For those of us fortunate enough to have never heard of this campaign, it involves hospitals and clinics across the United Kingdom being targeted with protestors holding vigils, handing out leaflets, and aggressively praying for the salvation of any person who may be trying to exercise their legal right to choose. This may come as a shock (not) to some, but ‘total female liberty’ is still waiting to catch on with Jesus and his disciples.
Part of my research for this piece meant tracking down 40 Days for Life’s own biography on the work they now do in cities across the world (huzzah for globalism and low aviation costs!). Outstanding amongst this delightful depiction of androcentric missionary activity was their assertion that they are a “peaceful and educational presence”. I suppose by ‘educate’, they must mean informing us that our right to reproductive autonomy is non-existent, whilst ‘peacefully’ reminding people that choosing to have an abortion is synonymous with buying a first-class ticket to one of the Nine Circles of Hell? Maybe something along those lines?
But we need to get serious now. Since 2014, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has recorded around 2,500 incidents of staff or patients having a negative experience with pro-life protestors within Britain. Importantly, this is only the recorded number of incidents, with the actual number likely being much higher due to some being reluctant to report any harassment they may have endured.
Let’s not pretend for one second that this is a campaign solely driven by the need to ‘look after’ and ‘protect’ human life. Anti-choice protestors spread a culture of shame and anxiety outside these clinics and seek to act as a barrier to essential healthcare. These groups are actively targeting and harassing vulnerable people, not least rape survivors, or those in abusive relationships. Particularly in the time of Covid-19, in which more abuse victims are trapped at home with no way of escape than ever before, it is of paramount importance that they are given access to services that make giving birth a choice, not a compulsion.
And what of those of us who decide to have sex (because apparently the female body actually CAN enjoy it every now and then – spoiler alert, Angry White Males!) and are failed by their form of contraception? The actions of anti-choice protestors across the country enforce the idea that female sexuality is something to be policed and punished. I mean, really, in a century that has given us Roxane Gay, Alison Bechdel, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, how are such narrow-minded views still allowed to be hurled at people at the gates of the very service promised to offer them understanding and help in a difficult time?
I will be the first to say that everyone, regardless of whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, has a right to express a view. But those who make a career out of intimidating and bullying others are not interested in having a discussion, nor respecting decades-old reproductive rights. Anti-choice protestors have long made it their mission to abuse and attack the mental health of vulnerable people, making Back Off Scotland’s work as important as it will ever be. Its 150-meter buffer zone goal aims to prevent anyone trying to access abortion healthcare from having to come into close proximity to those holding the so-called pro-life ‘vigils’. However, until such zones are enforced, clinics across Scotland and Britain are being forced to prepare for yet more egregious harassment by 40 Days For Life, with this being what they have called their largest Lenten campaign “in history”. Happy International Women’s Day everyone.
Image: Lorie Shaull via Flickr