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Every female should have legal access to abortion – for whatever reason

A number of US states have introduced among the most restrictive abortion legislation in the world. And signs are that Britain’s anti-choice movement is on the rise too. EMMA CHESWORTH reports

ALABAMA legislators have passed a Bill to outlaw abortion in almost all cases, making it the US state with the strictest abortion law in the United States.

This comes just days after the US state of Georgia signed into law a Bill effectively banning abortion outright.

Due to come into force in 2020, the Bill declares foetuses to be persons with full legal rights and passes down custodial sentences for women found guilty of aborting or attempting to abort their pregnancies. Dubbed the “heartbeat” Bill, it makes illegal abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Georgia joins Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota and Ohio in passing this abhorrent legislation which makes clear what they think of women having bodily autonomy.

The anti-choice movement here in Britain is no doubt watching with eager anticipation at a future they would like to see.

Here in Britain, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) prides itself on being the oldest anti-abortion campaigning and educational organisation in the world. 

Earlier this year, a Middlesbrough branch of the SPUC was established through the Diocese of Middlesbrough, adding to the 100-plus branches and 45,000 supporters who aim to “build a society free from abortion.”

It is not too far a leap to mention what is happening in US states such as Georgia and Iowa and the situation on this side of the pond in the same breath.

One of the main intimidation tactics used by the SPUC is the annual 40 Days for Life campaign where anti-abortion campaigners spend up to 12 hours a day outside abortion centres. 

This campaign has its roots in the US where it is substantially funded through “generous benefactors,” according to the 40 Days for Life website. It is now making itself felt in cities across England, Scotland and Wales.

Nottingham has been one of the cities targeted by 40 Days for Life campaigners over the past number of years. 

Dubbed a “prayer vigil,” the reality is that women who are legitimately accessing their right to reproductive healthcare face intimidation and harassment by the “vigil” participants.

Lisa Clarke, a nurse and feminist activist based in Nottingham, said: “They call it a prayer vigil but it isn’t. You can pray anywhere, you don’t have to be outside a treatment clinic. Also, if you want to effect legislative change, you should be meeting with the law-makers. By positioning themselves by the treatment they are making a very clear statement that they are there to harass women.”

As part of a group of activists challenging the 40 Day protests, Clarke is more than conscious about balancing the opportunity to counterprotest while ensuring women accessing treatment are in no way the focus or distressed by their actions. 

For the past few years they have asked for sponsorship from people during the 40 days of Lent and that money is then sent to the Abortion Rights Campaign, which dedicates its energy to achieving free, safe and legal abortion everywhere on the island of Ireland for everyone who wants and needs it.

The SPUC and 40 Days for Life can dress up protests as prayer vigils but their placards, faux concern and propaganda are clear indicators of their complete dismissal of women as human beings rather than purely vessels for foetuses.

Its shock tactics are nothing new. Back in the 1970s, when visiting local radio stations, SPUC representatives would often turn up with a foetus in a glass jar for their interview.

The direct approach remains today with anti-abortion protesters regularly pitching themselves outside clinics. 

The need to challenge this action is vital and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) leads on the Back Off campaign to lobby for protest-free zones outside clinics to prevent women being filmed, followed or intimidated by protesters. 

BPAS welcomed the recent decision by Richmond Council to proceed with a Public Spaces Protection Order which came into force on April 1 around the Rosslyn Road BPAS Clinic, preventing “protesting, namely engaging in any act of approval or disapproval … with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means.”

BPAS public affairs and advocacy manager Rachael Clarke said: “Anti-abortion protesters have been outside our clinic on Rosslyn Road almost every day since 2013 distressing women and intimidating staff. In a one month period late last year we received 323 complaints from women and those accompanying them about the intense upset the protesters had caused.”

Still, when abortion is discussed, the narrative is all too often about a women’s right to access abortion if she has been raped. 

That is the starting position for too many of the debates. That is how much society is weighted against women.

She must have suffered the trauma that is rape, for her to have the audacity to not want to continue a pregnancy and have a child.

Every female should have legal access to abortion — for whatever reason. Her individual reason is enough.

Language is powerful and using terms such as “pro-life” suggests any woman who supports abortion rights is therefore “pro-death.” It’s about being pro-choice — allowing women to make a choice. Their choice.

It is a fact there will always be abortion. You can never ban abortion; only safe abortion. And while there is no wholesale appetite for the government to ban abortion outright, it is vital we ensure they do not make it harder and more restrictive for women. 

Reducing the time limit and increasing medical approval can only impact negatively on women and girls.

Many women are fertile for up to 30 years. That is three decades of hoping whichever form of contraceptive is used, works or is available when needed.

Every woman is different. Every woman has her own story and her own circumstances.

Every woman should have the right to decide what happens to her own body.


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