Via Alamy

Unsung heroes

Those who stand outside abortion clinics offer help as well as prayers, but buffer zones cut off that lifeline

Artillery Row

Theresa” (her name changed to protect her anonymity) had at first wanted to keep the baby she was carrying. Yet she had no house, no job and no means of income to support a child. Hence the tears she shed as she arrived at a private abortion clinic feeling she had no choice but to end her pregnancy.

Outside the clinic, Theresa met a pro-life volunteer who noticed her distress. Gently, she asked what was wrong. In the conversations that followed, Theresa was offered accommodation, food vouchers and baby clothes. Her child is alive today because of the practical help offered by that volunteer.

The clinic did not ask her if her preference was to keep the baby

The “Be Here For Me” website documents many more such stories — women who, through the coercion of a partner or family member, or out of a feeling of desperation, arrived at an abortion clinic reluctantly, met peaceful volunteers offering information and practical support and were then assisted so that they were able to keep their baby. Such people are unsung heroes — whatever one’s views about abortion, we all agree that women who wish to keep their babies ought to be enabled to do so.

Yet an amendment to the Government’s Public Order Bill, which returns to the House of Commons today, is set to outlaw such help. The result will be women like Theresa being forced into life-changing decisions against their wishes. In such a scenario, ‘pro-choice’ in effect means being given only one option from which to choose.

The presence of a few individuals peacefully handing out information outside clinics to those who want it has helped partially redress the significant imbalance that too often exists when women consider an abortion. Indeed, in 2017, a report from the Care Quality Commission found that MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly Marie Stopes) had offered bonuses to staff for encouraging women to go ahead with abortions. At all 70 Marie Stopes clinics, inspectors found evidence of a policy that saw staff utilise a high-pressure sales tactic, calling women who had decided against having an abortion to offer them another appointment with the abortion provider.

The clinic Theresa attended was itself an MSI facility. Theresa reports how, in contrast to the volunteers outside, the clinic did not ask her if her preference was to keep the baby nor did they check whether she was being coerced into abortion. Indeed, she was not informed of anywhere she might turn to receive practical help should her preference be to continue with the pregnancy.

The amendment will serve only to prohibit those offering practical support to vulnerable women

Clause 10 of the Government’s Public Order bill will mandate so-called “buffer zones”, which criminalise pro-life volunteers who express their entirely legal views within 150 metres of abortion clinics. The clause’s supporters argue that its intention is to criminalise harassment by pro-life groups against vulnerable women.

As a comprehensive Government review pointed out in 2018, sufficient laws already exist that criminalise genuine harassment, so the amendment will serve only to prohibit those offering practical support to vulnerable women. It is not for the pro-abortion lobby to decide what choices a woman with an unplanned pregnancy should make nor the information to which they are given access.

Indeed, unlike the activities of other protestors whom the Public Order Bill was actually designed to address, the Government’s review found pro-life activities in the UK tend to be peaceful. One might add that this contrasts with the hysterical response from some pro-abortion protestors in America after the repeal of Roe v Wade last year, which led to violent demonstrations and arson attacks on pro-life pregnancy centres across the country, and even an apparent assassination attempt against a Supreme Court Justice.

When MPs vote on this flawed amendment today, let us hope stories like Theresa’s are remembered — that the support provided by volunteers, who some want to criminalise, is the reason she was able to make an informed choice and why her child is alive today.

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