Choosing to fight

On 31st May 2009 Dr George Tiller was shot dead by an anti abortion activist while serving as an usher in his local church in Wichita, Kansas. This was the second time that Dr Tiller had been shot by someone who disagreed with the fact that he performed late term abortions. Now, two years on, there is a growing feeling here in the UK that women’s right to choose is slowly coming under threat.

Pickets outside of abortion clinics, something that seems very ‘American’, are, according to pro-choice activists, becoming increasingly common in the UK. Last year two people were arrested for standing outside of sexual health clinics with giant pictures of aborted foetus’. This year the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) have had to put up with a forty day picket of one of their offices in central London while their offices in Belfast, where abortion is criminalised, face a permanent picket. Up and down the country, it seems, women who choose to have abortions are increasingly facing the likelihood of being called ‘killers’ as they walk into clinics.

Campaigner outside Marie Stopes in 2007

But it’s not just a few religious zealots outside of clinics that we have to worry about. Nadine Dorries MP and her band of anti-choice followers are attempting to redefine their arguments as ‘pro-women’. Dorries wants to force women who choose to have an abortion into additional counselling from organisations not involved in the procedure itself. This move, says Clare Murphy of BPAS: ‘Deliberately seeks to undermine women’s confidence in their own decision-making and their trust in the organisations that offer support and services.’

The government has appointed anti-choice group LIFE to its new sexual health forum while excluding BPAS. The forum, which is otherwise made up of those involved in the delivery of sexual health programs, has now, according to Diane Abbott MP, ‘brought ideology onto the table.’ Anti choice campaigners have avoided making any big, public moves but are, instead, slowly trying to shape the agenda on abortion in theUK.

According to Abortion Rights 140 pro-choice MPs left parliament at the last election and with sexual health services set to be casualties of the coalitions’ austerity measures the situation for women’s sexual rights is looking pretty grim.

Abortion access is not, however, going to be eroded away without a fight. One third of women will have an abortion at some point in their lives and 75% of the British public want women to have access to abortion. The ‘pro-choice majority’ must, according to Diane Abbott MP, remain ‘constantly vigilant’.

As a response to protests outside of clinics in the USA pro-choice activist decided to ‘adopt pickets’. Pro-choice members of the public pledged to donate money to the abortion clinics according to how many people were at the pickets. The more picketers at the clinics, the more cash available to help deliver this vital service to women.

Last night, in a small and crowded room in central London, a group of pro-choice activists got together to talk about their fight to safeguard and extend women’s right to sexual health services. Next month women will march in London for a woman’s right to choose. The situation may be precarious but, thanks in a large part to the wonderful organisations that provide women with a choice, we are in a position to stop the UK from going down the dangerous road of reigning back abortion rights.

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