Hannah Austin explains why pro and anti campaigners are taking to the streets in the Welsh capital
For the past couple of weeks, an anti-abortionist group 40 Days For Life has been holding a vigil outside an abortion clinic in Cardiff’s St Mary Street underneath a banner ‘Come And Pray to End Abortion’. They are part of a movement, originated in America, that holds these ‘vigils’ outside abortion clinics during the 40 days of Lent.
They view abortion as murder and oppose it in all circumstances. One of the Cardiff group suggested that a woman who became pregnant as a result of rape could find carrying the unwanted pregnancy to term to be a “healing experience”.
40 Days For Life claim they are not intimidating women who seek to access an abortion. However, their presence directly outside the clinic is innately intimidating for women at a time when they are already likely to be feeling extremely vulnerable. Contrary to the beliefs of these religious fundamentalists, abortion is not a decision taken lightly by women. No woman needs to experience intimidation and judgment en route to the clinic having made a choice that is hers and only hers to make.
Last week a friend and I decided to meet with the manager of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service abortion clinic – part of a UK-wide charity – to find out how we could usefully support them and stand up for a woman’s rights to reproductive choices. She told us that women entering the clinic had been extremely upset by the presence of 40 Days For Life. Several had been in tears. Furthermore, she had been forced to call the Police on two occasions because 40 Days For Life had been praying on the steps to the clinic and telling the women entering the clinic that they would “pray for their souls”.
As a result we have decided to host counter-demonstrations every Saturday outside the clinic for the duration of Lent. We chose Saturdays because the clinic is not open on weekends. Unlike 40 Days For Life we have absolutely no desire to inadvertently further intimidate women entering the clinic by forcing them to pass through a crowd of protestors.
Our first demonstration took place last Saturday when we vastly outnumbered the anti-abortionists. At the protest’s peak there were a hundred of us, both men and women, drawn from a broad church – seasoned activists, concerned residents, students, parents, those with religious views and atheists, and of varying political allegiances.
We heard speeches from Julie Morgan AM and an elderly Christian Minister who travelled down from the valleys to support the pro-choice cause. Passing taxi drivers honked their horns in support while passers-by cheered us on. Several Christians stopped to tell us that they were appalled that 40 Days For Life were claiming to be acting on religious grounds.
As one of our placards says, we are the pro-choice majority. More than three-quarters of the population in the UK support a woman’s right to choose, as do 90 per cent of GPs. Access to safe abortion is essential to protect women’s health. Every year across the world, 80,000 women die as a result of unsafe abortions. The recent case of Savita Halappanavar dying in Ireland after being refused abortion illuminates the potential consequences of women being denied access to abortion. Indeed, it is hard to see how 40 Days For Life can call themselves ‘pro-life’ when the only lives that they are concerned about are those that are not yet born or viable. The lives of women are nowhere on their list of priorities.
It is quite unbelievable that more than four decades after the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act, we still have to get out on the streets to defend the radical idea that women can make their own decisions about their own bodies, their own futures and their own family planning. However, for as long as anti-abortionists insist on intimidating women and pressing for legislation that would not end abortion, but would only increase its casualties, we will be out in the streets of Cardiff supporting women’s right to reproductive choices.