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Edinburgh students should back the “Back off Chalmers” group

Despite Covid-19 restrictions, Chalmers Sexual Health unit has seen monthly appearances of anti-abortion protests on their doorstep. In the wake of this, a group of University of Edinburgh students have set up the campaign group “Back Off Chalmers” to counter their protests. The campaign is working towards persuading Edinburgh Council to enforce a 100-metre buffer zone surrounding abortion clinics.

Abortion and reproductive health have always had a political focus, however, this has become even more fraught over the last few years. Poland is attempting to make their abortion laws even stricter than they currently are and abortion clinics are closing across the United States, with an additional looming threat to Roe v. Wade coming from an increasingly conservative US Supreme Court. Abortion only became legal in the Republic of Ireland in 2018 after the eighth amendment was repealed, and it only became legal in Northern Ireland in the past twelve months. The debate surrounding abortion has persisted for years.

People often forget, though, that abortion is not an easy choice. It is laden with what ifs and is often the person’s only choice. Who can grant themselves the power to dictate that, especially as it is an inherent human right. Reproductive health and abortion have become so steeped in religious and political rhetoric that people have forgotten the person who is in the situation. To see people’s choices so debated and fraught is disheartening. Abortion has never been uncommon, but if it is made illegal many lives will be at risk and it will be a step backwards.

The protesters continue to gather outside Chalmers even though it was said that these gatherings would end on 10th October. The group is affiliated with an American pro-life lobby and the “40 Days for Life” campaign. Normally, they meet once a month or every day during lent, but Covid-19 has not stopped their gatherings. How can one be “pro-life” whilst risking other people’s health during a pandemic? Scotland is currently under tier 3 restrictions across the central belt, which may rise to tier 4 (complete lockdown) at any time as cases continue to rise in the second peak. To disregard the danger that Covid-19 poses is a complete lack of compassion or care for those around them. It shows their deep-set misunderstanding when it comes to health. It is made even worse by the ill intent of their actions.

Knowing the damaging impact it can have on someone – even without the added worry of Covid-19 – these protests spread shame onto something that can’t be controlled. Even with free speech, they completely disregard someone else’s freedom of choice and their basic human rights. A person’s health should only ever be a matter between their doctor and themselves. It should never be evolved into some kind of political playground. The location of these protests is a deliberate choice to antagonise those attending appointments. Each action is deliberate; it is not to lobby for change, but to seek out individuals and spark a reaction.

The protests also have a detrimental impact on Chalmers as an institution, an institution that forms an important part of Edinburgh’s community. In addition to abortion services they offer STI testing and treatment, contraception and emergency contraception, pregnancy testing, advice, and much, much more. To attend any kind of appointment at Chalmers and be confronted by this group is daunting, nevermind the impact it may have on some of those attending an appointment for a pregnancy termination.

There is still too much stigma and taboo surrounding abortion. Despite one in three people having an abortion, Marie Stopes conducted a study and found that only 33% of people would talk to their family about them considering an abortion. Groups like the protesters outside of Chalmers enable this stigma to persist. These kinds of protests completely ignore the individual’s choice in the matter, especially considering 95% of people do not regret the choice. The ability to choose has to be that person’s right alone. To shame someone for that won’t make their position change or make the statement less true.

The “Back Off Chalmers” campaign is acting as a counterforce by not allowing the protesters to intimidate those attending Chalmers. To fight for these buffer zones is to fight to ensure Chalmers can be a safe space for the Edinburgh community. The freedom of choice has to be respected, and “Back Off Chalmers” is protecting just that.

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