Recent years have seen reproductive rights, chiefly, women’s access to abortion services, come to the forefront of feminist’s movements. Labour MP Stella Creasy won the Spectator 2017 award for backbencher of the year for her work securing access to English abortion clinics for Northern Irish women, and thousands of women in the Republic of Ireland took part in a pro-choice march ahead of the nation’s planned referendum on a woman’s right to choose.
The highest abortion rate is for women aged 22, with 27.9 in 1000 choosing to terminate a pregnancy, meaning a large portion of them will be students.
In support of women looking to make this difficult decision, UEA Student Support Services said “The decision to have a termination of pregnancy is never easy…our approach is to direct people to the appropriate external agencies who are best placed to offer advice and support.” Of course, as with most things, access to these services is not as easy as it may appear.
The anti-abortion group, 40 Days For Life is planning a protest outside the Norwich British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) beginning on Valentine’s Day. The campaign aims too, “with God’s help…mark the beginning of the end of abortion in our city — and beyond.”
In light of this protest, UEA Student Council voted 40-1 in favour of a motion against the protest, including organising transport to the clinic and providing information regarding the alternatives to the clinic.
Responding to the vote, SU Women’s Officer Amy Atkinson said “our students should never face harassment when accessing a basic right, and they should have agency over their own reproductive circumstances… as a result, we’ll be doing all we can to support both student users and the BPAS clinic itself.”
There has been a considerable shift in the debate surrounding abortion, especially regarding the implementation of “buffer zones” which would prevent protestors coming within a certain radius of the clinic, these buffer zones aim to provide a safe and accessible environment for those women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.
In an interview with Concrete, Katherine O’Brien, Head of Media and Policy Research at BPAS, said, regarding the protests, “it’s got to the point where large groups of individuals with graphic banners and cameras strapped to their chests are directly approaching women, shouting calling them mother and even murderer as they’re trying to walk through the doors.
“We’re working with local police because obviously, these protests spring up out of nowhere, so we will be working with local police and also the local council if it’s appropriate, but really, what we need is a national solution to a national problem.
“Some women, when faced with these protestors, feel unable to go into the clinic on that day, but these women go away and rebook an appointment at a later date when they feel able to go in. “These protests aren’t stopping women having abortions, but forcing them to have abortions at a later date, which is in nobody’s interests.”
Concrete contacted 40 Days For Life but they declined to comment.