Back Off

End anti-choice abortion clinic harassment

The problem

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:

  • The display of graphic images of dismembered foetuses
  • Large marches that gather outside clinics
  • Filming women and staff members
  • Following women down the street
  • Throwing holy water on clinic sites
  • Large gatherings of people who sing hymns and recite dedicated anti-abortion prayers loudly enough to be heard inside clinics
  • Handing out leaflets containing false medical information such as that abortion causes breast cancer, leads to suicidal ideation, and can lead to child abuse
  • – Handing out advertisements for dangerous and unproven medication to ‘reverse’ an abortion.

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 solution

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.

The stats

  • 1 in 3 women will get an abortion.
  • Roughly 1 in 4 women in the UK attended a clinic that has weekly or daily protests.
  • 43 clinics across the UK have been targeted, these are the biggest clinics treating the most people.
  • The House of Commons have shown overwhelming support for buffer zones – in 2020 the first stage of Rupa Huq’s Private Members Bill passed 213 – 47.

This map details anti-abortion activity reported outside clinics in the UK from 2017 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 right to protest

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.

Ways to get involved

If you’d like to support the Back Off campaign, there are lots of ways to get involved:

1. Share your experience

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.

 

2. Write to your MP

Simply click here and enter your postcode. A template letter will appear that you can use or edit and then send to your MP.

 

3. Set up a local resident group

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: contact@sistersupporter.co.uk.

(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 policy@bpas.org 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.)

“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

Take action
The following organisations support ending clinic harassment

Alliance for Choice
Antenatal Results & Choices
Aurora New Dawn
Birthrights
British Medical Association
Brook
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)
Forward UK
Green Party Women
Humanist Society Scotland
Humanists UK
Imkaan
Marie Stopes International
Medical Women’s Federation
Mumsnet

NUPAS
Positively UK
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
Sexpression
Sister Supporter
Sister Supporter Manchester
Stop Street Harassment
The Fatherhood Institute
Unison
University and College Union (UCU)
The Vagina Museum
Women’s Aid
Women’s Resource Centre