The British Humanist Association (BHA) has joined campaigners to present Number 10 Downing Street with the ‘Back Off!’ petition, which calls for the introduction of protected buffer zones outside of abortion clinics and pregnancy advice bureaus in the UK. The grassroots petition, which was started by campaigner Erika Garratt, and which has been supported by the BHA alongside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), the Royal College of Midwives, Women’s Aid, Mumsnet and others, has attracted more than 118,000 signatures from people all over the country calling for urgent action to protect women from harassment and intimidation from religious anti-choice campaigners.
In the past few years, women in the UK have increasingly had to run a gauntlet of forced confrontations with religious campaigners situated directly outside of NHS abortion clinics, causing them to feel unsafe and exposed. These include verbal assaults and exposure to graphic imagery, such as those of dismembered foetuses, which are designed to guilt and intimidate women into not making use of their legal right to an abortion. The ‘Back Off!’ campaign has sought to protect women’s right to by demanding American-style ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics and family planning centres.
Today the BHA joins Erika Garratt alongside the former Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Clare Gerada and representatives from bpas, Brook, and other charities in presenting the petition to the Office of the Prime Minister.
If introduced, buffer zones would prohibit anti-abortion protesters from demonstrating within a small set distance from abortion clinics, allowing women to freely and safely enter without fear of harassment. Anti-abortion campaigners would however be free to protest at any other site.
BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘In the 21st century, it is appalling that women’s hard-won right to autonomy over their bodies should face threat from extremist religious activists. No woman should be subjected to emotional manipulation, harassment, and intimidation as she attempts to access her legal right to healthcare.
‘So far, anti-choice campaigner have been able to claim it is within their rights to impose a hardline absolutist morality on women who have made a considered decision about their own sexual and reproductive health. It is of the utmost importance that this issue is not mischaracterised as one of freedom of speech. Anti-choice campaigners are free to demonstrate in public spaces, but they should not be permitted to position themselves directly outside clinics with the aim of harassing and intimidating women. Their tactics have made exclusion zones a necessary measure to protect the rights of women.
‘The BHA’s position on abortion is firmly pro-choice, and we are profoundly concerned about any efforts to unnecessarily restrict, delay or curtail a woman’s right to choose, which is an indispensable aspect of women’s equal right to autonomy and self-determination.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0773 843 5059.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.