Britain’s health service is being “held hostage” by anti-abortion protesters who have forced the closure of one clinic and put another under threat, say campaigners.
In an open letter, a group of MPs, academics, health workers, authors and women’s rights campaigners have called on the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to protect NHS staff and services from “harassment”.
Among the 30 signatories are Dr Susie Orbach, Richard Dawkins, Diane Abbott MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Baroness Gould, Kate Green MP and Dr Evan Harris.
Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, is quoted here as saying:
These disgraceful tactics have been imported from America where the anti-abortion movement has become fanatical and lethal.
If these people feel this strongly about abortion, they should make their case through the lobbying channels that we all have to use.
Sanderson called the harassment of women going to abortion clinics “shameful”.
The Government must ensure that staff can work free from harassment, and that patients can access services without intimidation.
Led by Kerry Abel, chair of Abortion Rights, pro-choice advocates have called for support for patients and staff.
It is surely the government’s responsibility, within the legal framework set by the Abortion Act 1967, to ensure access to safe, legal abortions for women, regardless of where they live.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) confirmed last week that an abortion services clinic had been forced to close “as a direct result of protest activity”. It has not named the clinic, but a second, in Southwark, south London, is also on “the brink” of closure due to security fears.
Abel said there was widespread concern that the closure would encourage the anti-abortion campaigners to escalate activities.
The picketing of clinics with huge posters of bloodied medical procedures and foetuses has already become common.
They want to increase stigma, and because they can’t win in parliament they want to whisper in women’s ears and frighten them with graphic and vindictive images.
She urged the public to sign the letter.
There needs to be action taken before things escalate,” she said, adding that “hotspots” of activity at clinics don’t seem to be showing up in a drop in the number of abortions, but may be pushing up the length of time before women have abortions by scaring them away until they really have no options.
BPAS, Abortion Rights and others are asking for “buffer zones” similar to those in Canada and France, so that lawful protests can go ahead without the intimidation of staff and women attending appointments.
Clare Murphy of the BPAS said: