The line between protesters and extreme activists

The war between pro-life and pro-choice has been a popular subject for controversial debate since abortion was legalised over 50 years ago. The pro-life movement (also known as the right-to-life movement), is a social and political campaign which began in the late 1960’s in the United States and since then it has slowly begun to invade Britain.

Recent stories in the media tell us about the impulsive lengths anti-abortion activists will go to in order to voice their opinion. These demonstrations continue to become more violent, with The Independent (Taylor, 2015) reporting that protesters in the UK are being trained by those who are involved with the pro-life movement organisation in the US.

In 2010 The Guardian released a headline that read “US-style anti-abortion protesters target clinics in Britain” (Magolis, 2010) with the article stating that these protesters are copying the aggressive tactics which are used by US activists.

These vicious protests include standing outside of abortion clinics and preying on the vulnerable women who enter by displaying graphic content and holding up banners that scream things like “ABORTION IS MURDER!” and “YOU’RE GOING TO HELL.”

Just recently, The Telegraph (2015) released a video on their website which appeared to show a secret recording of undercover Sunday Life reporter -Patricia Devlin, being chased by a pro-life protestor outside a Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast City centre. Actually, ‘harassed’ may be a more suitable choice of word as you see Devlin make numerous attempts to get the protester to leave her alone. The fact women have to deal with this during such a difficult time in their lives is disgusting.

This activism becomes more concerning when you learn that those in the US are only getting more brutal with their methods of protest. ‘Many abortion clinics have been vandalised or destroyed and staff members intentionally injured and even killed.’ (Logan-Stotland, 2008) And it doesn’t stop there because there have also been reports of friends and relatives who accompany the women to the clinics also being targeted.

Not only have they begun to abuse patients physically, these protests also have an impact on these women mentally. They aren’t taking into consideration what these women may have gone through or what they are dealing with; I guess you could say that the old adage of walking in someone else’s shoes comes to mind.

Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill published a speech he was meant to give at Oxford University before it was banned online. In this particular speech he expressed why he was pro-choice and how this idea of there being an ‘abortion culture’ created an unnecessary panic and rise amongst pro-life activists.

He said he believed that he found the term ‘abortion culture’ incredibly dehumanising, stating that “… It treats the women who access abortion services not as individuals who for many varied reasons have taken a conscious, autonomous decision to end their individual pregnancy, but as automatons, effectively, moulded by culture to see the fetuses they are carrying as worthless. Women’s individuality and agency is airbrushed from the picture, and instead they’re presented as bit-part players in a culture of death.” (O’Neill, 2014)

This leads to another issue with these protests. They only seem to attack women. It is women who have this procedure done to them so therefore they are the ones who are affected by these protests and the materials they distribute. We live in a society were the responsibility for sexual behaviour is placed almost entirely on women, when in actual fact; it takes a man and a woman to create life.

Some may argue that women are in control of their own bodies and therefore abortion is ultimately in their control, but if the abortion was carried out because of a mutual decision that had been made between husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend then why is it only the woman who is victimised when these protests take place?

I am not trying to argue whether abortion is right or wrong, I am trying to argue against those who use extreme forms of activism to voice their beliefs on behalf of their own religion or personal philosophy. In 2014 BPAS (British pregnancy advisor service) called for a law to stop anti-abortion protesting happening outside of clinics, stating that “We’ve repeatedly asked these people to move away from right outside clinics. But unfortunately, they continue to be there and it really is becoming a problem,” (Chi Chi, 2014)

But I don’t think enough is being done to stop these demonstrations happening outside of clinics. Many believe that this may be because ‘politicians want to steer clear of abortion in the mistaken belief it is just too controversial’ (Furedi, 2014). When in reality most of us believe that a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy if it is the right choice for her.

I believe strongly in the freedom of speech and the right to protest, but I also believe that our freedom of speech stops it impedes on someone else’s rights. That’s why I think that legislation put forward to prevent these threatening pro-life protesters based outside of clinics is no violation of the right to protest but a protection of the rights of a pregnant women and the choice she has a right to make.

So, is abortion morally correct? It’s an argument that can never be won because ‘Some of those who believe that abortion is wrong may still accept that it can sometimes be necessary. While some who do not think that it is wrong do not necessarily believe that it is always the right thing to do. Both sides might agree that abortion should be controlled by laws, but disagree about what those laws should say.’ (Bailey, p.6)

43% of abortions worldwide are illegal, which means changing the law will only make the procedure unsafe, not put a stop to it. I am pro-choice because I believe women should be able to control their destiny. But it doesn’t matter what I believe or what you believe. When a woman decides to have an abortion it isn’t my choice or yours. It’s hers.


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