Why is this campaign important for women using this Marie Stopes clinic?
This campaign, and the Public Spaces Protection Order, would mean those using the clinic will be free to do so without interference, intimidation and harassment, and with the anonymity that they are legally entitled to. There has been a pro-life presence outside Ealing’s clinic for over 20 years, and this hasn’t been unchallenged because their behaviour does not amount to harassment, but rather because someone going through a termination isn’t then going to go through the lengthy process of filing a police report, and then a court case. And nor should this be something they have to do, whilst accessing a legal health service.
What are the impacts on patients of having to face anti-abortion protestors outside the clinic?
From what we have witnessed, and from testimonies given to us by residents and service users about their experiences, the only traumatic thing about visiting the clinic is being accosted by anti-choice “pavement counsellors” on the way in. The women are nearly always addressed as “Mum”, asked if the father of their child knows they’re killing their baby today and called a murderer. We’ve had incidents reported to us of women being physically blocked from entering, and in one instance a young woman was found crying across the road from Marie Stopes because she had been told that it wasn’t in fact the clinic and she had missed her appointment. I want to stress that this is a minuscule portion of the incidents that have occurred over the two decades there has been a pro-life vigil here, and that these are categorically not isolated incidents.
How have you counter-demoed against the anti-abortion protestors?
We have a table away from the clinic, where local residents congregate and talk to us about the campaign. This has been really important, as the community engagement has been unprecedentedly high and crucial. Directly opposite the door to the clinic, the pro-life group holds a prayer vigil – they have tactfully chosen this position so they can be seen when leaving/entering the clinic and can be heard from inside. Sometimes we form a line in front of this group, with our backs to the clinic. This blocks them from view, and means the person using the service does not feel watched. We also run an escort service, for those who feel too intimidated to walk past the “pavement counsellor” positioned at the entrance.
Who have been the major supporters of the campaign?
The residents, the clinic, BPAS, MP Rupa Huq, and the service users themselves have all been hugely influential supporters of our campaign. It’s with this support that we felt able, and a sense of duty, to continue our campaign for a protection order.
How could this campaign have a national effect on the rights of women across the country?
We are already seeing the domino effect. Other boroughs have been contacting us for advice, as they are wanting to petition their local council for a PSPO. Many people don’t realise the severity of the pro-life protests in the UK, but those who are aware have a real desire to fight for harassment-free spaces outside clinics. As councils are asked to put in these orders, it clearly demonstrates to the government that this is a national issue, and one that they must address.
Follow @SisterSupporter to find out more about the campaign.