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Buffer zone to end women's intimidation in SE1 - guest post

A fortnight ago, a small local clinic became the site of an extraordinary and unexpected David and Goliath-style battle. A young, small, heavily pregnant woman took on a set of better equipped, more numerous, anti-abortionists, and won. Hands down.

Columnist Caitlin Moran tweeted about a “Hero” pregnant woman who stood up to anti-abortion group Abort67, who regularly protest outside Blackfriars Medical Practice in Colombo Street, SE1. The video of the confrontation went viral, with over 5 million views already on Youtube. Her (and our) hero told the protesters, eloquently and firmly, what they were doing was wrong, and that the anti-abortionists have no idea of a woman’s circumstances that lead her to choose a termination. There was an outpouring of support on social media for one of the most fundamental women’s rights achieved in the last fifty years.

Abort67 are keen on adoption. And I’m not talking about unwanted babies. They have adopted intimidatory US-style tactics against abortion clinics. They mean to spread them across Britain.

Abort67 use blown-up pictures of foetuses, chained to nearby railings and activists film women as they come and go. It’s not illegal that they protest, but if you record women going into a clinic that provides a number of medical services the clinic is undermined and the menace to women using what are supposed to be confidential services is apparent.

We would rightly object if insurance company reps filmed people entering a sexual health clinic. An exclusion zone operates outside institutions like parliament. And we would not tolerate a shop or other business and its staff being the target of verbal or psychological abuse and intimidation over a sustained period. We should not tolerate it when the target of abuse is women.

The right to a safe, legal abortion is an issue that an overwhelming majority of the British public support. If the response to the pregnant lady outside Blackfriars Medical Practice is anything to go by, many are sickened by the intimidation of women entering such clinics. A number of countries, including Canada, Australia and South Africa have created laws around the provision of so-called buffer zones or access zones around abortion clinics where abuse and filming are not permitted. These zones protect staff and support women using the services. In the US, where providing abortion services can prove fatal to doctors, nurses and administrators, a number of states now offer such zones.

We believe that the intimidatory tactics seen outside the Blackfriars Medical Practice are the thin end of the wedge. If we don’t create a buffer zone around clinics like the one in SE1, if we as a society implicitly condone the abuse of women going about their daily lives, it can only lead to more hostilities against women.

We urge you to sign our petition calling for buffer zones outside abortion clinics, as suggested by Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities.

Radha Burgess & Neil Coyle

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