Humanists join campaign to end abortion clinic harassment

Humanist Society Scotland have joined forces with the campaign group Back Off Scotland and the British Pregnancy Advice Service to campaign to end the harassment of women accessing abortion and pregnancy services by religious campaigners.

The volunteer led campaign has already amassed over 4,500 signatures to a petition calling for restrictions outside the Chalmers Street Clinic in Edinburgh after a recent concerns over activity outside the healthcare facility. Supporters who live in Edinburgh can sign the petition here.

This month Humanist Society Scotland gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee and called on authorities to do more to ensure clients are able to access healthcare facilities without being harassed.

These protests include groups of varying sizes seeking to dissuade individual pregnant women and people from accessing abortion services – using signs, loudspeakers, medically inaccurate leaflets, and by waylaying and following patients and passers-by. This is not a protest in the usual sense. Clinic protesters are not seeking to change the law or influence the opinions of decision-makers – they are present to pressure individual abortion clients into making different decisions about their healthcare. They rely on being able to access individual service users in a vulnerable position.

People encountering these protests are often deeply distressed, feel harassed, and are unable to find alternative entrances to avoid the activity. One woman passing the Chalmers Centre in Edinburgh earlier this year said:

‘While walking with my baby in the pram, I passed one protester standing on the pavement outside centre. She tried to hand me a leaflet which clearly had anti-abortion messaging… I spoke to her about what she was doing… She looked into my baby’s pram and said ‘but there’s a reason you didn’t want to murder your own baby’. I walked away and she shouted after me ‘You are a hypocrite. You knew she was a baby and you knew she was in your womb. Would you kill her too?’

Maggie Kinloch (left)

Commenting on the joint campaign, Humanist Society Scotland chair Professor Maggie Kinloch said:

‘The experience in other parts of the UK shows buffer zones can ensure that vulnerable clients are protected from harassment outside healthcare clinics. This does not restrict the right to protest but such protests should be targeted at policy makers not individual women. Humanists believe individuals should have the right to make their own decisions about their own body and access to reproductive health without being harassed is no different.’

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