Women 'intimidated and traumatised’ by anti-abortion protesters

Women have shared their experienced of anti-abortion protesters while addressing MSPs on Tuesday.

Women ‘intimidated and traumatised’ by anti-abortion protesters outside health clinics PA Media

Anti-abortion protesters outside a hospital left a woman feeling “trapped and very overwhelmed” when she went for the procedure, MSPs have heard.

Lily Roberts was a first-year student at Glasgow University when she attended the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in the city in 2018 to end a pregnancy.

She addressed MSPs on Tuesday who are considering new legislation to create “buffer zones” outside facilities where abortions are carried out, which would prevent protests.

She said she encountered 15-20 anti-abortion campaigners outside the hospital.

She recalled: “You simply couldn’t avoid it and it was very intimidating.”

Alice Murray, a spokeswoman for Back Off Scotland, also addressed the committee and told how she had an abortion at the Chalmers Sexual Health Centre in Edinburgh in 2019, when she was a third-year student at Edinburgh University.

She said she encountered a group of between five and seven protesters outside the clinic.

While she had been aware of such protests beforehand, she told the MSPs that seeing them as she went into the clinic alone “was a different experience”.
She added: “It’s not something you expect in this country.

“The long-term impact of facing the protesters for me has been really significant, it has really impacted the way I can process my experience.”

She stressed she has “no regret” over her decision to end the pregnancy, but said “the experience was traumatising”.

Ms Murray said: “That, hand on heart, was only to do with the protesters.

“I know for a fact if the protesters were not there, that experience would have been the equivalent of getting a tooth out for me. But the protesters made it a very politicised and stressful experience.

“We need people to be able to access healthcare without the intimidation I faced.

“It was all the more traumatising to walk into a clinic and have people outside suggest what you are doing is wrong and to question your decision.

“It’s horrible, it’s really emotionally draining.”

Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), told MSPs about the impact similar protests have had on staff at its clinics in England.

BPAS does not provide abortion care in Scotland, but Ms Clarke said it is the same groups conducting protests, “supported by the same American-backed organisations”, north and south of the border.

She said women attending clinics for abortions can be “highly distressed”, and she also spoke about the impact the “prolonged presence” of protesters can have on staff.

Ms Clarke said: “The impact on staff, it grinds them down. The impact on them is really severe.”

She told MSPs there had been “some pretty nasty altercations between our staff and the people outside”, adding she had received reports from BPAS workers of them “being chased down the street in the dark” after work.

Ms Clarke continued: “We have recently had one where someone was followed to their car and then the next day that was keyed. There’s no proof who that was, but I think it is quite suspicious.”

Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Government, women’s health minister Jenni Minto said: “It is completely unacceptable for women to face any fear of harassment, intimidation or unwanted influence when accessing essential healthcare services – and the same goes for healthcare staff doing their job.

“That is why we are working hard to support Gillian Mackay MSP with her Member’s Bill, which seeks to deliver national legislation on safe access zones.

“I am pleased that the Bill is moving forward, and am grateful to all those who are taking the time to provide evidence on its impact to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee over the next few weeks.”

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