Throughout February and March the Christian pro-life group ‘Forty days for Life’ will be picketing outside Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. According to their mission statement they attempt to put into action “a desire to cooperate with God in the carrying out of His plan for the end of abortion. It draws attention to the evil of abortion through the use of a three-point program: Prayer and fasting, Constant vigil, [and] Community outreach.” The group will be standing outside the abortion clinic, holding signs, handing out leaflets and praying in an attempt to discourage women from having an abortion.
Despite the fact that the group have been accused of intimidation and harassment in the past, they claim that they will be quiet, respectful and will only talk to people who approach them first. This isn’t good enough. An abortion will be, for the majority of women, a traumatic experience and it does not need to be made any more difficult for those involved. A protest or picket of this nature could easily take place anywhere else in the city, or perhaps outside the Scottish Parliament where the powers over abortion law are soon to lie after its devolution. Positioning the picket directly outside Scotland’s biggest hospital is a clear effort to make women feel uncomfortable with their choice. It would be ignorant to presume that women do not research the personal consequences of an abortion before deciding that it is the right choice for them. The extra pressure and distress that crossing a picket line to access a health service will add to womens’ experiences is utterly unnecessary.
The group is also known across the Atlantic for trying to change the minds of women considering abortion by handing out leaflets. These leaflets are notoriously ridden with utterly inaccurate information, including claims that abortions are carcinogenic.
Aside from intimidation and distributing false medical information, the protestors will also fundamentally infringe upon a patient’s confidentiality. A patient should be free to access any service on NHS grounds without judgmental glares and guilt-inducing signs, in particular an abortion clinic. I don’t consider it implausible that their very presence, regardless of what they stand for, may in fact deter women from going anywhere near the hospital for fear of confrontation and prejudice, which could lead to further stress and anxiety.
The notion of free speech often arises as a counter argument to my view, some argue that these people are merely expressing an opinion and they should be allowed to do so whenever and wherever they please. But what this argument fails to acknowledge is that there is a definite line between expressing your opinions and antagonising and intimidating people. If what they are really set upon as group is ending abortion, there are other channels to go through; protests in other areas, social media groups and campaigns or lobbying MSPs to name but a few. This protest is by no means a last resort and therefore should not be used as a tactic.
Should the picket go ahead and it is, as the group claim it will be, peaceful, quiet and legal, it remains an unacceptable intrusion into the private decisions of women. No matter your stance on abortion, the intimidation and pressuring of women is never acceptable, least of all outside an NHS facility.