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 harassment from anti-abortion protesters outside clinics. Encounters with these groups leave women feeling intimidated, distressed and, in some 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.
Legislation that would create buffer zones around all abortion clinics would mean that certain activities could not take place within 150 meters of abortion clinics – effectively ending the harassment of women outside clinics.
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.
This map details anti-abortion activity reported outside clinics in the UK from 2018 onwards:
If you would like to update the map or inform Back Off of any affected clinics we have not listed, get in touch via our Share Your Experience form.
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.
If you have encountered harassment outside an abortion clinic and you’d like to tell us about it, please click here and fill in our quick online form. There’s no need to include your name or contact details if you don’t want to.
Simply click here and enter your postcode. A template letter will appear that you can use or edit and then send to your MP.
To set up your own local resident group, please get in touch with Sister Supporter directly if you would like to find out the best ways to campaign in your local area: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(If you live in an area which already has a local resident group, or whose council is already considering action on buffer zones, please email email@example.com to ask us how best to help. This includes Ealing, Portsmouth, Southwark, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Camden, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Guildford, Cardiff, Leeds and Richmond-upon-Thames.)
“They were hurling abuse as I came out of the clinic, saying I’m a disgrace, that I’m a horrible person and what I’m doing is an abomination.”
– Client, December 2021
“She watched me driving around and looking for a space, then approached me and was saying ‘do not kill your baby’ and something about god. It made me feel emotional and scared. I was already worried and unprepared to be approached. I was crying and it affected my mental health. I was scared to go in.”
– Client, October 2021
“She told me that I should let God decide – that it will torture me for the rest of my life and don’t let them do it. She told me her daughter couldn’t have kids and I’m wrong for killing a baby”
– Client, February 2021
“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
Alliance for Choice
Antenatal Results & Choices
Aurora New Dawn
British Medical Association
Doctors for Choice UK
End Violence Against Women Coalition
Everyday Victim Blaming
Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health
FIAPAC (International Federation of Abortion and Contraception Professionals)
Green Party Women
Humanist Society Scotland
Marie Stopes International
Medical Women’s Federation
Race Equality Foundation
Rape Crisis England & Wales
Reclaim Rosslyn Road
Reproductive Health Matters
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
Royal College of Midwives
Scottish Women’s Aid
Sister Supporter Manchester
Stop Street Harassment
The Fatherhood Institute
University and College Union (UCU)
The Vagina Museum
Women’s Resource Centre