Our ‘pro-choice’ presence outside the abortion clinic in Buckhurst Hill.
Two years ago, Feminist Fightback decided to make a stand against the religious group, which calls itself ‘Helpers of God’s Precious Infants’, as they marched to an abortion clinic in Essex to pressurise and intimidate women. We publicised this decision amongst feminist circles and contacted the workers at the clinic, but we didn’t receive any response. It was only afterwards that we were contacted by the Women’s Grid, telling us that we had contravened a collective decision by certain feminist organisations to not engage in this type of action outside clinics. Reasons apparently were that many clinic workers did not want any type of demo at their doors and presumably that this type of counter-presence would escalate the situation.
We don’t want these demos happening either. We would prefer to not have to be there but we think we have no choice. We refuse to let the space be taken up by these religious zealots to peddle their lies and try to enforce their misogynist worldview. Any space conceded to their ilk will, in itself, escalate the situation. We cannot afford to naively think that they will disappear on their own, or that their tactics will not become even more threatening and intrusive. This situation is getting worse: we never really heard about this type of things a few years ago, apart from in places like the US or Poland. Now, there is always at least one of two members of Helpers of God’s Precious Infants outside this clinic in Buckhurst Hill, and we’ve no doubt heard about the group intimidating women and staff at the clinic in Blackfriars by e.g. filming them. With large amounts of support and funding from the USA, this is an issue that looks set to get worse, especially if feminist groups do not exert a counter-force against it.
We wrote a statement last year after our last trip to Buckhurst Hill to try and open up a wider debate about tactics. Most people on our Facebook Group at least felt they didn’t want to go against the wishes of the clinic staff if they didn’t want a counter demo on days when the zealots were there. On our latest trip to Buckhurst Hill, staff came out and talked to us, saying they were very happy that were there. Normally, they said there would be a member of staff outside to escort women into the clinic but because of cuts, they couldn’t do this. We think that without our presence, the atmosphere and experience would have been much worse for people going into the clinic. Women were shocked to leave the clinic and find a sea of rosary beads and police. One woman was too scared to get out of her car. Another young girl was crying as she rushed into the clinic, visibly distressed at having to run this gauntlet to get inside. All the women we approached to escort into the clinic said yes. For this reason alone, we think we made the right decision to go there. We think other groups should join us.
But even if the clinic workers had been hostile to our presence, this in itself would not have been a reason for us to stay away and give up all the space to the zealots and the cops. We think we should question the role of these workers (ostensibly private sector ‘service-providers’) and challenge the de-politicisation of the issue of abortion that comes along with the marketization of it within and outside the NHS.