Every day, across the country, women are accessing abortion care from providers like BPAS. Getting an abortion is, for many women, a deeply personal and private decision that carries a heavy emotional burden. Unfortunately, too many women are exposed to groups of anti-abortion protesters outside clinics. Encounters with these groups leave women feeling judged, intimidated, and distressed – and in the worst cases, too scared to get to their appointment.
Anti-choice groups try to deter and prevent women from accessing abortion care in many ways including:
Abortion care is legal – and women deserve to access it without fear of being targeted in the street. The police are often called to help but are unable to take action to protect women due to a lack of legislation under which they could charge perpetrators – there is a simple piece of legislation that could change this.
The introduction of legislation that would create buffer zones around all abortion clinics. This would mean that certain activities could not take place within 150 meters of abortion clinics – including the filming of women accessing services, harassment and intimidation, stopping women in an attempt to change their mind about accessing services, and advertising dangerous and unproven medication.
Currently, three local authorities have public space protection orders (PSPOs) in place to create buffer zones outside clinics, however securing a PSPO is a complex and expensive process for local authorities and creates a postcode lottery of protection for women.
We know that local police up and down the country wish they could do more to support women who face this harassment and would welcome the introduction of buffer zones. Harassment outside abortion clinics is a national problem that requires a national solution.
“The protestor was stood by the entrance with a banner. My daughter is autistic and this procedure is stressful and traumatic – and when she realised they were outside is caused her to have a panic attack…” – Client’s mother, June 2021
“Two men were waiting outside the clinic and approaching any women who entered and trying to give them anti-abortion leaflets. I cried in the car – it was already a horrible day and the thought of being harassed for my decision was too much for me. I felt threatened and intimidated…” Client, December 2020
“3 people outside with a plastic foetus on a table. They were asking clients what treatment they’re having and saying they’ll die if they take pills.” Clinic manager, March 2020
“The young client had been so upset and distressed that she ran back over towards her Mum’s car… Her Mum walked her back over and the girl who was wearing a black hoodie had pulled the hood all around her head and face to hide away and was crying hysterically and visibly shaken… The client in question didn’t have her surgical treatment as planned that day, she was too distressed.” Clinic staff, Taunton, February 2020
The introduction of buffer zones doesn’t shut down debates on abortion, it simply ensures that the law protects women from harassment and safeguards their right to access confidential medical care.
Anti-choice groups have every right to campaign for restrictions on women’s reproductive choice and there are plenty of opportunities and spaces for them to do just that, but the space directly outside a clinic should not be one of them.
Australia and parts of the US introduced buffer zones to protect women years ago, it’s time the UK government did the same.