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Feminists counter nationwide pro-life demos in UK

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Hannah Boast
WVoN co-editor 

Feminists were out in force on Saturday in the UK to protest against nationwide ‘kerbside vigils’ being held by pro-life group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).

The counter-protests were spontaneously organised via Facebook in cities including Edinburgh, Bath, Bristol, Brighton, Newcastle, Cardiff, Lincoln, Liverpool and Sheffield.

The ability of feminists in different cities to mass together so quickly using social media is an encouraging sign for those of us who have been dismayed by the recent increase in pro-life activity on the ground and in government.

The vigils were held in over 50 towns and cities in the UK to mark the 44th anniversary of the introduction of the 1967 Abortion Act, which legalised abortion in the UK (but not Northern Ireland).

SPUC claims that it wanted to give ‘silent witness’ to ‘well over seven-and-a-half million unborn children…killed through registered abortion in Britain’, and also to ‘the hurt caused to women by abortion.’

The UK pro-life movement has gained rapidly in confidence in the last year and has increasingly modelled its tactics on those of the US Christian right, adopting the same grisly photographs, graphic  vocabulary and intimidating forms of protest, often holding vigils outside abortion clinics.

This March, militant pro-lifers from the campaign group 40 Days for Life set up a vigil outside the offices of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) in London.

This vigil was also actively opposed by a group of over 500 protesters who gathered outside the BPAS clinic on March 30 to support the right to abortion.

The Sheffield vigil on Saturday took place at what initially seemed a bizarre location – on a piece of wasteland next to a busy road outside Meadowhall shopping centre.

As the vigil went on, the benefits of the location for the pro-lifers became apparent to those of us on the counter-protest.

The road was slow-moving, packed with cars of shoppers heading to Meadowhall, who would drive past the pro-life signs and read their messages, with no chance to engage or object. Vigils in other parts of the country also took place next to busy roads.

Many drivers seemed relieved to see a counter-demonstration and beeped their horns, raised thumbs or mouthed ‘good work’ in support. Encouragingly, a lot of our supporters were families with children in the back seat.

The pro-choice counter-protest was attended by around 40 people, mostly younger women, but also a significant number of men.

When we arrived at 11am there were 12 pro-life protesters, who looked a little shocked to see us. Their numbers grew to over 20, nearly all men aged over 60. There was a scattering of women, and two children.

All the pro-life protesters we spoke to in Sheffield were polite and none carried the placards of foetuses that have become typical of the US pro-life movement. However, one pro-lifer attempted to show pro-choice protesters one of these images on his mobile phone.

Interestingly, SPUC claims to be secular, basing its argument on the UN 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, but the supporters we spoke to were strongly religious.

Some carried rosary beads, tried to bless us, or talk to us about God.

The rise of an increasingly vocal pro-life minority in the UK is concerning, especially when it threatens to lead to a reduction in the number of providers.

We should not have to protest to keep rights that were won by our grandmothers and mothers 44 years ago.

Still, Saturday’s impressive counter-protests across the country left many of the people I spoke to feeling invigorated and empowered.

The UK’s growing feminist movement could not be in a better place to win this fight.

  1. And…if anyone wants to get involved in feminist activism in Sheffield you can get in touch with LaDIYfest, who organise workshops, gigs and activities locally. Lots of us were at Saturday’s counter-protest and we’re a friendly bunch so come and join in!

    Blog: http://ladiyfestsheffield.wordpress.com/
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/123786497709711/
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/ladiyfestsheff

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