By Rupinder Parhar
UK Feminista volunteer
A woman’s control over her own body should not be a contentious issue. Yet, at this moment, almost half a century after the Abortion Act was passed in this country, large and very vocal portions of our society are still intent upon stripping women of this right. More pertinently, it should most certainly not be a political issue. However, recent parliamentary moves that would allow anti-choice organisations to counsel women on their pregnancy options on the NHS demonstrate that a woman’s right to choose still remains under threat.
In fact, Abortion Rights explain that provisions for abortions provided by the NHS are still woefully lacking, and anti-abortion doctors are still capable of exerting an unfair level of influence over a woman’s decision to undergo a termination. Alongside these ongoing issues, political interference in the issues surrounding abortion threatens to stem progress.
Despite the defeat of proposed changes to abortion counselling, the government continues to consider proposals which would not offer impartial advice to women considering abortion. Alongside this, the influence of right-wing anti-abortion groups in the US is being felt in this country, with anti-choice groups harassing and filming staff and visitors of abortion clinics.
It is thus resoundingly clear that the need for pro-choice activism is as vital as ever. To counter pro-life protest over the last twelve months, there has been a heartening resurgence of pro-choice activism. 1000 pro-choice supporters attended the lively pro-choice counter-protest outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) clinic in Bedford Square back in March, which was recognised as being the first of its kind in the UK. Counter-protest is important in vocalising dissent against the harmful tactics of pro-life protesters, which includes harassing women entering clinics and confronting them with intentionally distressing images and factually dubious claims.
This April saw counter-demonstrations against the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children’s (SPUC) ‘kerbside vigils’, held by to mark the passing of 44 years since the implementation of the 1967 Abortion Act. This grassroots activism is particularly important as it enables pro-choice protesters to directly engage with the same people who pro-life activists are attempting to reach out to. It is also an excellent way for activists outside of London to organise and share ideas, with social media sites such as Facebook playing a crucial role in bringing these people together.
Organising demonstrations away from abortion clinics is crucial in addressing members of society who may not be fully informed of the facts, whilst also not exacerbating any anxiety for women attempting to enter the clinics. Pro-choice demonstrations have been occurring outside abortion clinics on Sundays (when clinics are closed), as an effective method of challenging pro-life activists without causing any distress for women entering the clinics.
What is now crucial is maintaining this momentum, so that we can ensure women feel informed and safe about making this decision. We need to keep organising counter-protests, lobbying parliament and asserting a woman’s right to choose in the face of anti-choice dogmatism.