Pro-lifers are free to disagree with abortion but it should not come at the expense of a woman’s right to confidential medical care.
American anti-abortion protest group 40 Days For Life have announced intentions to hold demonstrations in the proximity of Queen Elizabeth University Hospital throughout the entirety of Lent. The “peaceful protests” will be held a street away from the hospital and, if they go ahead, will be the first example of US-style pro-life demonstrations in Scotland.
40 Days For Life first crossed over to England and Wales in 2010. Since then the combined pressure applied by the group and its supporters have reportedly caused several clinics to consider closing. The group claim to have been given permission to protest by both the Glasgow super-hospital and Police Scotland. The NHS denies this, while Police Scotland pointed out that the protestors cannot be removed as technically they are not breaking the law. Any counter-protests against 40 Days were rejected after it was acknowledged they could risk making the experience even more stressful for women looking to access medical care.
40 Days For Life plan to maintain a vigil for six weeks in February and March, stating that their presence consists solely of peaceful prayer, fasting and ‘witnessing’ women entering the hospital – which, of course, isn’t intimidating in the slightest. Co-founder Shawn Carney claims that his group are fighting a ‘culture war’ – again, really reassuring and obviously totally peaceful. The actions of this group completely violate a woman’s right to confidential medical care. And to top it all off, all the staff and women accessing gynaecological services will be subject to the presence of the campaigners.
So why don’t we call it what it is – a round-the-clock picket line, designed to terrify and pressure often desperate women into making the life-long decision of having a child against their wishes. Unfortunately, 40 Days aren’t the only pro-life group targeting clinics and medical facilities. British group Abort67 are becoming infamous down south for their graphic images of ‘real abortions’ and bullshit medical leaflets. The brochures that they hand out are full of completely inaccurate claims such as the supposed link between abortion and breast cancer, or the risk of infertility.
The group’s expansion to Scotland coincides with the devolution of abortion law to the Scottish Parliament. Pro-lifers are getting their knickers in a twist over an imagined plot by Holyrood to permit abortions up to the point of birth – yet behind their deafening prayers they possibly see an opportunity to further their ends. 40 Days are among those who have succeeded in lobbying dozens of US states into passing hundreds of restrictions on abortion, and chances are people with similar views in Scotland will be turning their sights on our MSPs.
In order to see how potentially disastrous that could be, we just need to take a glance at Northern Ireland where abortion is illegal except in the singular circumstances where a woman’s physical or mental health is seriously threatened. Every year hundreds of Northern Irish women travel to other parts of the UK to get an abortion, which they then have to pay for themselves. This means that in addition to the emotional turmoil and stress that these women undergo when deciding whether or not to terminate their pregnancy, they also have to deal with the financial strain of medical bills and travel expenses. The situation is even worse in the Republic of Ireland, where a woman has to be seriously at risk of death to get a termination. In 2012 Savita Halappanavar died of a bacterial infection which was causing her to miscarry, yet her repeated requests for an abortion had been denied on the basis that Ireland was “a Catholic country”.
The criminalisation of abortion has done nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Instead, it forces women into seeking unsafe, unregulated back alley doctors. It is 40 Days’ democratic right to protest non-violently and I respect that – even if I personally think they’re ignorant zealots whose concern for life doesn’t seem to extend to the humanity of rape victims or the mental health implications of carrying an unwanted baby. Their interest is solely limited to the time between conception and birth. They have precisely zero business telling women what to do with their bodies.
Pro-lifers are free to disagree with abortion all they like, but it should not be at the detriment of a woman’s access to confidential medical care. I have absolutely no problem with them standing near the hospital and praying for children whom they will give zero fucks about once they pop out into the world, as long as I can stand across from them and inform them that their models of tiny – but fully formed – 12 week old foetuses are about as medically accurate as Stretch Armstrong.