Anti-abortion protesters planning a 40-day protest outside a Doncaster clinic have come under fire for harassing patients and intimidating pregnant women.
American anti-abortion group 40 Days for Life has begun staging a number of 'prayer vigils' outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinic in Thorne Road.
But the centre, which provides pregnancy counselling, contraception, miscarriage management and abortion care has blasted the campaigners who have held a number of similar protests in recent years.
A spokesman for BPAS said previous vigils outside the Doncaster clinic have left clients feeling distressed, with one saying, “They were stood right next to the entrance in a large group, holding signs and banners.
"It was provocative and intimidating. It was very upsetting while I felt very upset anyway. I felt attacked on a decision which was very difficult.”
BPAS has launched its own Back Off campaign, calling for local councils and the government to introduce specific legislation – as has been enacted in other countries – to create buffer zones outside clinics where anti-abortion activity cannot take place
Several councils across the UK have already voted in favour of buffer zones, whilst the Home Office has launched a national review into abortion clinic protests
Texas-founded 40 Days Of Life describes itself as “the beginning of the end of abortion” and coordinates protests directly outside family planning clinics all over the world, stating its mission is “to seek God’s favor to turn hearts and minds from a culture of death to a culture of life”.
Added the spokesman: “Protests have been ongoing in Doncaster for a number of years, with clients reporting groups of up to 12 people, being followed, having protesters banging on their car windows, and protesters crying as women walk past them.
"Police have reported being unable to take any action, and the local council are yet to confirm if they will try to make use of the powers they have to stop this harassment.”
Clients who have been confronted by previous 40 Days for Life “vigils” have reported feeling intimidated, on what can already be a difficult day. Clients affected last year outside BPAS Doncaster said: “They were talking to me and telling me I'm doomed if I come in. I felt really upset and alone.”
“They followed me and my partner up the road, tried to take our car registration number.
"They harassed me up the street and wouldn't stop following me. I didn't want to return today. Suffered an anxiety attack on approaching the clinic.”
“They were stood right next to the entrance in a large group, holding signs and banners. It was provocative and intimidating. It was very upsetting while I felt very upset anyway. I felt attacked on a decision which was very difficult.”
The charity has made it clear that they are not seeking to shut down the debate on abortion, but state that the right to protest must be balanced with the right of pregnant women to obtain advice and treatment in confidence and free from intimidation.
The charity believes that for those who wish to campaign to restrict women’s reproductive choices, there are plenty of locations and situations in which it is appropriate to do so – but targeting individual women as they access health services is not one of them.
A BPAS spokesperson said: “This is not about the morality of abortion. This is about women accessing legal advice and services – they need to be able to reach our clinics in confidence and without judgement when they need us.”