BHA joins new ‘Back Off’ campaign calling for protection of women accessing legal NHS-funded services from religious extremists
The British Humanist Association is today adding its voice to the ‘Back Off’campaign, calling for protected buffer zones to be established outside abortion clinics and pregnancy advice bureaus in the UK. Women who attempt to seek legal, NHS funded abortion services are increasingly being forced to confront anti-abortion religious extremists, who have taken to standing immediately outside abortion clinics and many of whom carry placards with graphic pictures of dismembered foetuses and accost the women trying to enter.
Women trying to enter clinics have been subject to being approached and accosted by anti-abortion groups such as Abort67, being handed leaflets with misleading information about abortion (for instance, that it leads to alcohol and drug dependence) and otherwise made to feel unsafe and vulnerable.
Anti-abortion group Precious Life’s head Bernadette Smyth was convicted last week of harassing the director of Northern Ireland’s only family-planning Marie Stopes clinic. Her actions were strongly condemned by the Belfast Judge Chris Holmes, who said ‘I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not feel it’s appropriate for anyone to be stopped outside this clinic in any form, shape or fashion.’
The BHA supports the view that the law should protect women who seek to access legal NHS funded abortion services and are joining the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) in calling for American-style ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics, which if introduced, would prohibit anti-abortion protesters from going within a small set distance from a clinic and allowing women to enter freely. The ‘Back Off’ campaign, also supported by the Royal College of Midwives, Mumsnet, and other women’s rights groups, recognises the right to free speech needs to be balanced with the right for women to seek advice and treatment in confidence and free from intimidation. For those who wish to campaign to restrict a woman’s right to choose, there are plenty of locations and opportunities available to do so. Using crass emotional manipulation outside abortion clinics should not be one of them.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘It is simply shocking that in the 21st century, women are being harassed and bullied by religious zealots while trying to access a legal, NHS-funded service. Access-free zones may seem like an extreme measure but these extremist groups have so far been able to claim it is within their rights to cause misery to hundreds of women, and to impose on them their religious, absolutist morality through emotional manipulation. This issue must not be mischararacterised as one of freedom of speech. Anti-choice campaigners are free to protest in public spaces. but what is unacceptable is that they are positioned outside clinics where women are trying to access a legal service.
‘The BHA’s position on abortion is firmly pro-choice, and we are deeply concerned about any efforts to unnecessarily delay, restrict, or harm a women’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. With police forces claiming that the legal options to counter this activity are limited, and attempts to use the Public Order Act to curtail their activities have not been successful, buffer zones are now absolutely necessary to guarantee this right.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0773 843 5059.
BPAS Back Off campaign
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.