The RCOG and FSRH have jointly responded to the Home Office’s review of protests outside abortion clinics. The review takes place in the context of a history of intimidation and intrusive protests against patients and staff at abortion facilities across the UK.
In our response we have made clear that we are aware of widespread protests. Some of the key evidence we have shared highlights the following:
- Over the last 12 months, at least 29 providers have been affected, at both NHS and independent facilities.
- Protestors have harassed women in various ways – filming, pressing unsolicited ‘advice’ on them and providing erroneous information about clinical risks.
- A frequent tactic used in protests is to display images of a late term foetus, past 24 weeks gestation, even though we know that, in 2017, 81% of abortions were carried out at under 10 weeks gestation.
- Protest activity causes unhappiness and confusion for women visiting the clinics as well as having a direct impact on staff well-being.
- No effective means of harassment and intimidation prevention is in place. Measures such as Public Spaces Protection Orders are slow, dependent on local initiatives and liable to obstruction. The Faculty and the Royal College evidenced that the means of restricting this activity, even when it causes great distress, are limited. We emphasised that current processes place the onus on patients to complain, and many patients are in too distressed a state to do so.
For several years FSRH and RCOG have pressed the case for buffer zones outside clinics – zones in which anti-abortion activity cannot take place. As highlighted in our response, experience in other countries – such that of the States of Victoria and Tasmania in Australia – has shown that buffer zones can be effective.
Fundamentally we have made the case that we do not wish to curtail freedom of speech and opinion around abortion. However, intimidating staff who are providing a lawful and necessary service and approaching potentially vulnerable women accessing these services are unacceptable means of promoting anti-abortion views.