This afternoon, I had a lovely lunch with my friend Jed. We ate sushi in the park and enjoyed the glorious unseasonal sunshine. On the way back to work, our mood was sullied.
Opposite the Marie Stopes centre in Fitzrovia was an anti-abortion demo. A woman stood on the pavement, with a rosary wrapped around her wrist. Next to her, on the pavement, was the word “LIFE” spelt out in plastic foetuses. It shocked me. It was one of those things I associate with the US, not something that happened yards away from my office.
I decided to take a photo. I crossed the road, and, standing outside the centre, prepared my camera. It was at this point I realised there were two of them. The other anti-choicer, a man, stood in front of me and refused to let me take the photo. He spoke with an Irish accent. In his hands were two rosaries and a handful of leaflets printed on cheap coloured paper. I didn’t see the text, but there was a great big cross on the front, so I think I can guess at the subject matter.
I informed him calmly that it was my right to take a photograph of a demonstration, and he became rather enraged and threatening, so fixated was he on moving me away. Across the road, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jed lining up a sneaky snapshot. I created a distraction while Jed took the photo above.
As we were about to leave, the man had been pretending to call the police. Of course he wouldn’t have really called the police. He had been rather threatening towards me, and the demonstrators were wise not to want their pictures taken. They were in the process of committing a crime: section 5 of the Public Order Act, causing harassment, alarm or distress. Having an abortion can be a very stressful experience for people, and this is exacerbated by people hanging around with misleading leaflets, rosaries and plastic foetuses, harassing them and causing distress.
I found it very interesting that the woman never spoke. She stood, placidly in her position while the man spoke for her: “She doesn’t want her photo taken”. It was a microcosm of patriarchal privilege and power, which is a huge motivator of the anti-choice agenda.
The experience left a bad taste in my mouth. It is one of those things that I hope I will never see again, but, sadly, I suspect I will. I do not want such demonstrations banned–it sets an ugly precedent, and those anti-choicers have as much right to protest as any other soul.
But I don’t want to see it again. I don’t want women to have to enter clinics for advice, for contraception or for abortions when they are at risk from harassment. So what is the answer here?
Long-term, it is to build a world where choice and bodily autonomy is respected completely, and nobody feels the need to be poking about in someone else’s womb-business. For now, though, we must work to foster an environment where anti-choice demonstrations are not welcome–a less confrontational, smaller-scale version of counter-demos against fascist groups like the EDL. This may be as small as taking a photograph of the demonstrators. We may, at some point in the near future, need clinic escorts, who protect people entering centres from the anti-choicers.
I don’t want to ban demos like this, but I truly hope that I never see one again.
8 thoughts on “I encountered an anti-choice demo”
Jed is the kind of feminist hero who takes surreptitious photos of women in the street without their permission and apparently against their wishes.
(And then lets someone put them on the internet)
Stay classy, feminists.
Ah, a little bit of Ireland here in London! SPUC – wankers. There are a lot more of them in Ireland and their demos are full on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXYYLhp65Yw
The big smiley face placards and shouting about life put me in mind of an early 90s celebration of rave culture.
Ugh. Terrible pity they’ve made it over here.
Good blog and a good post. I’ve seen these people in the street pretty much every day. Whilst I support the right to protest, there is usually one of them door-stepping women going into the clinic. That I do not support. I agree with your view “I don’t want women to have to enter clinics for advice, for contraception or for abortions when they are at risk from harassment.”
I like the idea of a counter demo. Somethng biblical might be nice.
Read a very interesting comment regarding anti-abortionists in the US, in the last couple of days. Its point was that although the Christian Right has a president in the White House for 24 out of the last 38 years, none of them have put enough judges into Supreme Court who would be likely to overturn the ruling of Wade V Roe of 1973 (which protects the right to an abortion) which is well within their power.
The argument is that actually for all the campaigning and belief in pro-life that actually its such a vote winner that wouldn’t be in the interests of the Republican party to loose by actually changing the law, especially when they can use other methods to make it as difficult as possible for women to access an abortion anyway. What other issue do they have that raises such passion and support? It mobilises voters and gets them involved.
When you start viewing it like that, it suggests that it isn’t really a religious issue at all, but one that is far more about power, control and influence on a wider level.
I wonder how much truth there is to it, but its an interesting concept. If it is true, it does mean that unless the abortion debate starts to become a vote winner in this country, we are highly unlikely to have the same problems over here. And no one, in their right mind, is going to stake their career on it and lead a new pro-life movement. The political suicide of Ms Dorries proved that, on both levels!
There might be money from certain groups, which undoubtably have power and influence, without the leadership to take it forward into the mainstream away from being a purely religious issue in this country, its only going to be a few individuals protesting rather than popular support.