An abortion clinic has closed after months of harassment and intimidation by anti-choice campaigners. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said that the clinic, which has not been identified, will be forced to close ‘as a direct result of protest activity’, the first such occurrence in the UK. BPAS also said one of its clinics was still operating despite ‘desperate attempts’ to interfere with its services, after anti-choice groups reported it too had closed.
The closure comes after months of warnings over the harassment faced by women seeking access to abortion services. Religious campaigners have increasingly taken to protesting directly outside abortion clinics and intimidating women using these services with verbal assaults and exposure to graphic imagery in an attempt to deter them from making use of their legal right to an abortion.
In response to this, the British Humanist Association (BHA) and other campaign groups including BPAS delivered over 118,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street in March as part of their ‘Back Off’ campaign. The campaign called for the introduction of protected buffer zones to protect women across the UK from harassment by religious zealots outside of abortion clinics and pregnancy advice centres. The introduction of buffer zones would act only to prevent anti-choice campaigners from entering a small set distance from abortion clinics in order to allow women to enter freely and safely, and would not impinge on campaigners’ right to public protest.
Last month, Labour’s Diane Abbott MP, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, put down an early day motion, which was signed by 27 MPs, supporting the establishment of buffer zones. The motion warned that protests are ‘having a significant impact on women’s ability to access safe, legal reproductive healthcare services’. The MPs expressed alarm that clinics were threatened with closure or unable to open due to the intimidating nature of the protests.
Responding to the closure, BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal said, ‘It is shameful that radical religious activists have been able to force the closure of an NHS clinic, thereby denying women access to safe and legal abortions.
‘Those in favour of buffer zones have made it absolutely clear that anti-choice campaigners have the right to protest against abortions should they wish to do so. What they cannot do is position themselves directly outside clinics and harass women facing a deeply difficult time in their lives. Their appalling tactics have now directly interfered with the right of women to access healthcare, simply because they personally disagree with the services being offered. We cannot allow a minority with outdated, hardline views to cause such damage to hard-won and fundamental women’s rights. This closure, and the continued harassment faced by women at other clinics, demonstrates that buffer zones are now a necessity.’
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.