Seven things you should know about Britain's pro-life movement

Dina Rickman@dinarickman
Wednesday 10 December 2014 19:00
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Almost every day British women seeking abortions encounter pro-life protesters at clinics.

Now Yvette Cooper has lent her support to calls for buffer zones around clinics as the debate around how women access such services heats up.

More: [Welcome to possibly the world's most polite abortion counter-protest]8

The shadow home secretary said campaign groups such as Abort 67, which has been demonstrating outside a Bpas clinic in Southwark, and 40 Days for Life, which runs 40-day prayer vigils outside several clinics, had made some centres consider closure due to “intimidation and harassment".

This is what we learned about the British anti-abortion movement by speaking to anti-abortion demonstrators in London.

1. This is a movement with money behind it and with staff paid to protest outside clinics

If abortion is an industry, the anti-abortion movement is too. The Good Counsel Network runs daily prayer vigils at three London abortion clinics (in Richmond, Ealing and central London ) and prays with 40 Days for Life campaigns when they are running.

Their work is supported by the Guild of Our Lady of Good Counsel (GOGC). A look at GOGC’s most recent accounts with the charity commission shows its income for 2012/13 was £325,911.

Good Counsel Network’s head Clare McCullough told i100.co.uk the group currently has four paid staff who stand outside clinics, three women and one man. They also have between 60-70 volunteers who attend vigils - a number which includes interns whose travel costs and living expenses are taken care of.

Abort 67 said virtually all people at protests were volunteers, but it had three paid staff at demonstrations.

Police at an Abort 67 protest in Southwark

2. Different anti-abortion groups in the UK are connected

Good Counsel Network is not connected to Abort 67 but is connected to 40 Days for Life. Robert Colquhoun is the leader 40 Days for Life in the UK. Records filed at Companies House show he is also a director of the Centre For Bio-Ethical Reform UK. Abort 67 is an affiliate of the Centre For Bio-Ethical Reform UK.

Andrew Stephenson, director of Abort 67, told i100.co.uk of this link: “We like Robert, we think he’s a good character... somebody who’s like that we are very grateful to work with but 40 Days for Life is a separate organisation.”

A daily vigil outside Marie Stopes in central London

3. But different groups have very different tactics

Abort 67 is known for holding up large posters featuring graphic images of aborted foetuses. It has also been accused of filming women on their way into clinics with body cameras they wear, although it says the cameras are for personal protection and women are not filmed.

Rather than a daily vigil similar to those carried out by the Good Counsel Network, Abort 67 visits the Bpas clinic weekly, another clinic on Tuesdays and stands outside colleges on Thursdays.

It also uses graphic imagery, and outside the Southwark clinic has a 10ft by 6ft poster of an aborted foetus at eight weeks. As Stephenson puts it, 40 Days and the Good Counsel Network are about prayer. Abort 67 want to “expose” abortion using graphic pictures: “It’s great what they do and they’re seeing a lot of babies saved. We want to see babies saved but we also want to see the reality of abortion made known to the general public.”

This is a flavour of what Abort 67 is about:

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4. Some leaflets are inaccurate

This is an excerpt from a leaflet handed outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Bloomsbury by the Good Counsel Network, given to i100.co.uk yesterday. Several claims are inaccurate: notably it lists breast cancer as a possible side effect of abortion, something which has never been proven. This is what McCullough told i100.co.uk when challenged about that:

Our leaflet lists breast cancer as a possible complication of abortion. There are well over 40 studies which suggest that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer and I don't believe it's appropriate for me to try and cover them up.

Police standing outside Blackfriars medical centre in Southwark

5. They use training from the US pro-life movement

Good Counsel Network likes to call staff standing outside the clinics pavement counsellors rather than protesters. But when questioned, McCullough says that they are not trained professionals but people using techniques modelled from one of America’s biggest pro-life groups, the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants.

“We all have our own in-house training which is based on the training from the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, a group in New York. We are very happy with it," she says.

6. Unsurprisingly, they are not happy with Yvette Cooper

Good Counsel Network's McCullough has this to say about the shadow home secretary's call for buffer zones: “It's perfectly clear that Yvette Cooper has never stood outside and watched one of these vigils take place in her life. If a lie is repeated often enough it goes round the world. We're out there every day. If we were breaking the law we wouldn't be there, we'd be arrested.”

Stephenson, the director of Abort 67 told us: “We’re deeply concerned there are people in parliament who have such a low view of freedom of speech, of civil liberties. What her idea is based on is utter lies, it’s based on fraud and we would challenge any MP to come out and see what we do. Look at the evidence.”

7. This argument is not going to go away

Abort 67 does not think threatening to stand outside a clinic weekly, wearing cameras and holding graphic banners until it closes is harassment. As the group's Ruth Rawlins says: “If we were going to stand outside and shout at women and not let people go in then yes that would be harassment. But we’re not doing that, we’re standing outside and showing the service that they are offering.”

Stephenson believes that the banners are empowering, saying. “If we were just to hold up lifesize banners nobody would be able to see the details: the ribs, the bones in the finger.”

As one activist told us: "If we could have moving pictures we would."

More: [Yvette Cooper calls for buffer zones around abortion clinics]7

More: [Welcome to possibly the world's most polite abortion counter-protest]8

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