Tuesday 29 November 2011

Responding to the vigil-antis

How to respond to aggressive and intimidating anti-abortion activity outside clinics.

For 40 days last month anti-choicers ‘40 Days for Life’ stood outside MSI and bpas abortion clinics in London. Many people found the sight of these vigil-antis standing in judgment over women entering abortion clinics repellent and there was some discussion about setting up counter-protests. However, staff didn’t really want even more people out on the streets in front of their clinics. In the event ‘40 Days of Treats’ emerged, delivering daily treats by way of a non-confrontational 'peculiarly British' counter-protest.

Today, members of Abort 67* stand outside bpas in Brighton. Abort 67 could have been air-lifted out of Texas and dumped from the sky given how incongruous this kind of protest is in the UK. Vast billboards of dismembered fetuses are displayed along the road and some women and their partners have been shouted at on their way in to the clinic. It is understandable that this perceived ramping up of aggression and intimidation tactics has led some people to feel that it is no longer good enough to turn a blind eye. Twitter has been abuzz with call outs for people to join a counter-protest.

So, is it time to get out on the streets and show solidarity for women and clinic staff by protesting against these vigil-antis? Our concerns are:

anything which increases the volume (of noise or people) around clinics may increase the discomfort of women seeking abortion (and the other sexual health services provided)

counter-protests will give additional attention to anti-abortion campaigns

we still live in hope that we can find more constructive ways to conduct debate about abortion in this country – ones which recognise most people in the UK think abortion should be an option for women. We don’t want to do anything that accelerates our progress towards a US style ‘abortion-war’. 

these people are fanatics. You won’t change their mind by reasoning with them or confronting them

That’s why we are calling on all those who want an outlet for their anger to help think of creative responses that:

  • are supportive of women seeking abortion and clinic staff
  • don’t give excessive attention to intimidating vigil-antis
  • draw the attention of the local authorities to the distress this is causing women 
  • ask the question about whether this kind of protest is compassionate, caring or ethical
  • ensure that the communities and congregations that are supporting this kind of protest are called out on this intimidating behaviour
  • can be used to mobilise for positive support of abortion provision and rights

Answers on a postcard please...(or via twitter or comments of course)

*I am not linking to Abort 67 because a gory video opens up within seconds of clicking on the site and I wouldn’t want anyone to come across it unprepared. If you want to visit the site, Google it.


  1. One approach would be to video and photograph the worst of the behavior then use the material to shame any organisation that supports them.

    We could also encourage parents groups like Mumsnet to lobby the police to take action against the offensive images (this must surely be a public order offence). I would have been very angry had my children been exposed to these when they were younger.

  2. I'm curious, Chris, when you talk about the "worst of the behaviour", what do you actually mean? And as for the "offensive" images, the most recent 40 Days For Life protests have not, to the best of my knowledge, used pictures of abortion.

    I ask because we never actually see any evidence of this "bad behaviour". Unless you think people peacefully protesting within the law is only OK unless you agree with the protest?

  3. Hi Niall,

    The blog post mentions Abort67 who make a point of using, in their own words, 'graphic images' in public demonstrations. I think this may be what Chris is referring to.

  4. Just to let you know. There actually is no proof of this. They also do not harris people. They are silent until spoken to. They always operate well inside of the law.

  5. I regularly see Abort67 outside BPAS on my way past the clinic and have NEVER seen them act aggressively. Yes they do show pictures of aborted fetuses but I think if someone is going to make a decision to have an abortion they should know all of the facts - its obvious that the fetuses are not just a 'blob' of cells. How can a woman make an informed choice if she is not actually informed of what an abortion actually results in? Unfortunately abortion is not a pretty sight and these guys seem to actually want the truth to be know for the sake of the vulnerable woman involved. I personally have never seen them to be intimidating or 'shouting' at clients. Would be interested to have proof of this.I am on the fence about abortion but I do believe passionately that to make a choice you have to know the truth.Its not good enough for pro-choicers to LIE to women, thats not pro-woman and its not pro-choice.

  6. I think that in the States, there are volunteer escorts to help service users run the gauntlet of protesters and come inside - it'd be fabulous to set up something similar here, and I'd be really interested in volunteering for it (as would several friends I've mentioned the idea to!)

  7. What on earth do you think pro-choice people are lying about? No, abortion isn't pretty, neither is any other legal surgical procedure. Why don't they show photos of operations outside other kinds of clinics if they're so concerned that people know exactly what they're getting into?

    Women aren't stupid, they don't need pro-life fantatics to inform them about anything - the doctors (who, by the way, are actual DOCTORS and can be trusted to know something about the procedure) make sure they know what they are doing.

    Pro-choice doesn't mean 'pro-abortion'. We have no reason to lie to women, we want them to make a healthy, informed choice - that doesn't mean assaulting them with gory photos that scream 'you are wrong' when they make the choice to have an abortion.

    These vigils care nothing for women, nor for children, and I hate that they've appeared in one of the most liberal places in the country.

  8. First of all Abort67 never seek to intimidate women they are polite and totally peaceful. All they seek to do is show the reality of abortion, which of course is ugly and deadly to the unborn child. Often women face terrible regret after the abortion and that trauma can last a lifetime. Also there can be terrible long term health problems resulting post abortion. I'm very pleased that abortion is being confronted and challenged.

    It doesn't seem very liberal to me that babies with disabilities are aborted. That babies who have minor physical problems like cleft palette are aborted. I reckon that should be challenged don't you. Or is it OK to kill the disabled because abortion is hidden? I think any procedure that kills 190,000 humans a year needs a bit of a spot light shining on it.

  9. Surely informed choice should include what a procedure does to the woman's body and possible mental health issues and that it is a life you are destroying. Otherwise aren't you patronising women by saying that they can't cope with the truth. Dehumanising the life within the mother is the way the abortion providers makes abortion seem OK. Seeing pictures of the harsh reality challenge the cosy view of abortion just being about the removal of a bunch of cells.

  10. I think it is rather patronising to assume that women seeking abortions are seen as too feeble and sensitive to view the results of their operation. Women are grown-up adults and should be treated as such.

  11. With regards to the gory photos claimed that say "you are wrong" I think it's up to the women to decide whether they think this is screaming out right or wrong, and if women do think this operation is evil or whatever then that's their own choice. We need to stop calling heartbeats "sounds" and using deceptive language to confuse women. Yes these images are upsetting because women recognise the babies killed are not a bunch of cells after all and are actual human beings at an early developmental stage. Real choice is to allow women to see all sides, if you're trying to stop women from seeing all sides this is what we call "limited/selective" choice, this is dictating what we should consider for choice and is not free choice at all.

  12. These displays are not aggressive or intimidating. I know, I have stood there and held a banner.... Had a lot of people shouting at us though. I can understand that it upsets people, because the whole abortion procedure is contrary to nature. The birth of a healthy baby involves blood and pain, but it's healthy, and no-one is offended by images of it. But images of the results of abortion ARE offensive, and rightly so because abortion itself is offensive.

  13. Ludi

    Re. escorting idea

    That sounds a really positive thing to do, I would support that.

  14. It really saddens me to read comments on a blog written in 2011 that talks about women as if they are feeble minded or weak.

    Abortion is a choice and it's not taken lightly. Women are not stupid and are advised by the qualified doctors who carry out the procedures as to what is actually happening. They know the noise is a heartbeat and that the foetus is more than a bunch of cells.

    Sometimes this is a difficult decision and sometimes it might even be an easy decision because of circumstances personal to the woman involved.

    I have no problem with peaceful protest, even when I disagree with the protestors. I do have a problem with people claiming they're doing it to inform women. They're not. We are a developed society with up to date medical procedures. Women are informed - by experienced doctors and nurses.

    I also think that saying the protestors are trying to protect children who are being aborted because of disability is absurd. This is a tenuous excuse and again, who is anyone to sit in judgement of a woman who aborts her child for whatever reason she may have. Is a protestor the right person to advise a woman on living with and caring for a child with a disability? I doubt that very much. Again, their are qualified and experienced doctors and nurses to do that within the clinics.

    I am proud of Britain's rights to protest and fully support peaceful protest for things you believe in. However, don't hide behind silly arguments. These protestors are not telling women anything they don't already know, they are not supporting families to care for disabled children, they do not care for the women involved.

    If you have convictions have the guts to stand by them, don't hide behind silly arguments that don't hold up.

    Finally, and just to remind everyone. Pro choice DOES NOT equal pro abortion, it just means pro choice, it's really very simple. Women have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies.

  15. I love that final comment and it is our final comment in this thread. We don't think constantly reiterating that what's happening in Brighton isn't intimidating is simply wrong. Women themselves are reporting being shouted at and feeling intimidated. I think there's still scope to explore creative responses to this situation which are non-confrontational and thank everyone for continuing to think about this.

  16. Sorry I mean we DO think constantly reiterating that what's happening in Brighton isn't intimidating is simply wrong...