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Hands off our Healthcare: Anti-abortion protests midst a global pandemic.

This year has seen our health services hit at full force, but one silver-lining of the pandemic has been the introduction of telemedicine for Early Medical Abortions.

This has prevented tens of thousands of individuals from travelling unnecessary distances to access care. Not only has this protected both women and abortion providers, but it has slashed gestation times - meaning individuals are having abortions earlier in their pregnancies - and it has allowed women to manage their miscarriages.

For many, accessing abortion care pre-covid, meant that they would take the first abortion pill in clinic while taking the second at home. This meant that many women would start miscarrying during their journey home.

However, telemedicine may not be suitable, or the option that some women want to take. BPAS suggest that half of the women they see still attend a clinic. These individuals are likely to be vulnerable including younger women, or those with safeguarding risks. It could also be women terminating a very wanted pregnancy due to foetal anomaly.

Whatever a women's reason, or chosen method, there should be safe, accessible care suited to them.

However, from today, US-based anti-choice protesters will target abortion clinics with 40-day long 'vigils'. Despite the effects of a global pandemic, social distancing, group of six measures and ongoing changes to Government guidance, this still appears to be the most appropriate time to harass women and abortion providers.

Tactics employed by 40 Days for Life protesters include approaching and following women as they enter and leave clinics, handing out medically inaccurate leaflets, pushing leaflets through car windows as they wait to enter or exit the clinic, and filming women and staff.

Some anti-abortion protesters also choose to hand out leaflets or hold signs, which contain images of foetuses as differing points of development. Yet again, another suggestion that women are unaware of the decision they are making.

Not only are these kinds of images extremely unsettling for women attending clinics, but they are also harmful to individuals who many have experiences a miscarriage or loss. While abortion is not usually associated with grief, I think it is deeply unlike that these images are not triggering to anyone.

Whether you support abortion or not, it is totally inappropriate to share these kinds of images as a hook to further stigmatise women.

These anti-choice groups state they will be complying with these measures, but how are we to be sure? How can we be sure that not one member from these groups will come within 2 metres of an individual accessing care?

More so, how can we be sure that the newly bought in rule of six will not be broken? When counting members from these anti-choice groups, staff, women attending (and anyone they bring with them), as well as general passers-by, we surely cannot suggest that at any point in this 40 day period there will be no more than six individuals together.

Regardless of your opinion on abortion, this is not the correct time to be making needless days out. At a point when regulations and guidance are changing daily and people are unsure whether to even visit their family, protesting outside of abortion clinics is clearly not suitable.

Although 40 Days for Life begins today, BPAS have already been experiencing growing protests post-lockdown. These groups are intimidating women and increasing the chance of Covid-19 transmission. No one should have to risk contracting Covid-19 while accessing healthcare, of no fault of their own.

Despite abortion being legally available for over 50 years in the UK, women are still unable to access secure healthcare where they are free from harassment and stigma, during a global pandemic. I am astounded that anti-choice groups would go as far as to suggest that this is an appropriate time to protest their beliefs.

Last year, more than 100,000 women attended clinics were approached by anti-abortion protesters.

These groups place their own beliefs above a woman's right to choice. While many within these groups state they are simple only informing women of other options, this is yet another way to suggest that women who have abortions don't already know what they're doing.

Regardless of how an individual came to the point of accessing abortion care, suggesting that they need to be educated in what they're doing is utterly ridiculous. More so, to suggest that this education should come as they are walking into a clinic.

We need Buffer Zones to protect women and staff attending abortion services.



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