‘They call it a vigil; I call it intimidation’

Anti-choice protesters have been disrupting abortion clinics in the UK for years — now Roe v. Wade has made it worse
Protesters are often seen with placards in front of BPAS Bournemouth. Photo by Sister Supporter Bournemouth.

“Even though I knew I was making the right decision, I was told ‘You’re going to hell. You’ve made the wrong choice.’ It set me back about 10 steps and I was a mess.” 

It was four days before her 21st birthday when Thea Griggs saw the two lines on her pregnancy test. She had always known that she wanted to have her own kids someday — but not now. Not when she had just escaped an abusive relationship. Not when she lived in a shared house and struggled financially.  

“I was in a really bad place. And as much as I have always been a maternal person, I knew that I couldn’t have a baby. It wouldn’t be fair on myself or my child. So, I made a decision to have a termination.”   

That was the beginning of February four years ago, when Thea experienced the whole turbulence without even being able to share it with her partner at the time. Instead, she had to partake in loneliness, doubts, fears, and the thing that she least expected: protesters.  

“I was in such a haze. It was a vulnerable time enough as it is. I was very upset, and it was not a decision that I took lightly at all. I came out of the clinic, and I remember there were a few people, and this one woman approached me and handed me a leaflet, essentially saying that there were other options and children have the right to live. To be honest, it puts all this doubt in your head. Like, even though I knew I was making the right decision, I was told ‘You’re going to hell’, ‘You’ve made the wrong choice’, it set me back about 10 steps and I was a mess.”   

She continued, “it’s still like that residual trauma from like, having these people shouting whatever it was they were shouting, being handed this leaflet in one of the most vulnerable times of my life. It still creeps up on you.”   

Thea Griggs

Thea is not the only woman who experienced harassment by anti-choice groups. In 2019, research by British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) revealed a staggering number of more than 100,000 women were subjected to anti-choice harassment while attending clinic appointments – a number that is even bigger than the capacity of Wembley Stadium. BPAS also noted 42 presences correlated with anti-abortion movement across England and Wales. Likewise, this is not a strange occurrence in Bournemouth.  

Emmie Isaac could not believe her eyes when she came to work for the first time at BPAS Bournemouth. The midwife thought such a view could only be seen in American movies. Years after, she has been called a ‘baby murderer’, greeted by baby clothes amongst the bushes, been followed to her car and had graphic signs or religious symbols shoved on her face. Yet she will never get used to it.  

She remembers vividly the day when baby clothes were displayed: “They obviously held up placards, very audibly praying. They held what they would call a ‘vigil’, which I would call an intimidation.”  

Emmie Isaac

Em recalled the day when she got ‘the worst harassment’: “I carried on walking to my car, and at that point they started shouting ‘You’re a murderer! You’re a murderer!’, ‘Think of the women and their babies!’, ‘You kill babies! You kill women’s babies!’ and chased me all the way to my car […] I got in my car, and then she started knocking on the window, still shouting that I was the murderer.”   

Organisations such as Sister Support Bournemouth have requested a buffer zone to the BCP Council. Proven effective in Ealing, the buffer zone is believed to give protection to women, their escort, and the clinic’s staff from the protesters. However, the council has not given a satisfying response. In the meantime, another affair raises the tension: the overturn of Roe v. Wade.   

Jess Bone from Sister Supporter Bournemouth mentioned her unease due to the fact that 40 Days of Life, US-based organisation, are one of the groups that diligently protested in front of BPAS Bournemouth. They recently recruited the organiser of pro-life protest in Scotland. Both Jess and Em expressed their worries that these organisations might be ‘more encouraged’ as the implications of Roe v. Wade, and it is not hard to see why. In addition, BPAS has seen ‘increased activity’ recently as a result of ‘Americanisation’.  

Jess said: “With Roe v. Wade, it’s kind of got abortion on a lot of people’s minds in the UK, whether for the pro or against. And so hopefully, the conversation is kind of a lot more at the fore of people’s minds. And the concern is with everything happening there that it will embolden everything happening in the US that is it will embolden the anti-abortion groups here in the UK. That’s why we’re kind of capitalising on this momentum and really pushing for that buffer zone.” 

At the moment, Sister Supporter Bournemouth has managed to raise 797 signatures on the buffer zone petition and around 1000 handwritten signatures. They are aiming for  2000 signatures by the end of June to be presented at the next full councillor meeting in July. 

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