A woman has told how she felt “shaken” after being confronted by anti-abortion protesters and suffered a panic attack outside a sexual-health clinic in Edinburgh.
Protesters from the Texas based 40-Days-of-Life campaign, which seeks to “pray to end abortion” have been staging demonstrations outside health facilities in Scotland since September.
A patient of Chalmers Street Sexual Health Clinic in Edinburgh told STV News how being confronted by the protesters felt like “being bullied in high school again” when she was forced to walk past the them to attend an appointment on October 4.
Julia, who did not wish to use her full name, accused the demonstrators of “nasty, gaslighting and bullying”.
The 43-year-old uses a mobility aid to walk and carries a blue badge, yet says she was unable to park in disabled bays due to the protesters using the area as a drop-off.
Julia instead parked on a nearby street to avoid the group but became distressed and was triggered with an asthma attack which developed into a panic attack.
She told STV News: “I wasn’t there for an abortion, it was a routine appointment and I don’t think the majority of people there are getting abortions.
“People attend for a range of reasons and they shouldn’t have to encounter this.
“It’s nasty, gaslighting and bullying. As I walked past they lowered their signs and stared me down. It is one of the scariest things that had happened to me in a long, long time.
“I have mental health issues and I got so shaken by it. I was prepared for my appointment but I was not prepared for these people.
“I started to have an asthma attack which became a panic attack. My body was just in shock.
“I’m not usually a shaky person but I walked past them and I almost felt like I was back being bullied in high school again.”
Julia waited half an hour in the clinic as she felt too intimidated to leave the premises alone. She tried phoning police but was told they could not attend.
She was supported by another woman at the clinic who offered to escort her back to her car.
A letterbox in the clinic reception allows patients to leave comments about their experience. Julia wrote that “they [the protesters] are a real threat to the physical and mental health of all patients and staff”.
She is now backing calls for 150 meter buffer zones around clinics, a move currently being considered by the Scottish Government.
She said: “I’m now learning more and more about these protesters and they really scare me.
“If these protesters had to stand 150 meters away what happened to me would not have happened.
“I cannot thank the clinic staff enough, they were lovely. These staff are the most incredible people and they have to deal with this every day.
“I felt I could not go back out and one woman offered to walk me to my car.”
In response to the incident, NHS Lothian said: “In Lothian, we value and support our dedicated and specialist teams who work hard to provide person-centred care.
“Chalmers provides vital sexual health services for a range of patients on matters such as: contraception; sexually transmitted infections; HIV testing, care and prevention; pregnancy; menopause; and support to victims of sexual assault.
“We are disappointed to hear of the planned anti-abortion demonstration near the premises, which could have the effect of intimidating our staff and people that need support from our services.
“We would like to reassure our patients that we remain resolute in providing a high standard of safe and legal care and will do all we can to minimise disruption.”
STV News contacted 40 Days of Life for comment.