On 14th November, local resident and member of Hampshire Pro-Choice, Emily Brotherhood, gave a deputation to ask Portsmouth City Council to introduce measures to prevent religious anti-abortionists from intimidating women outside the BPAS clinic at St Mary’s Hospital. Thirty-one councillors voted in favour of “exploring every available option” to protect people visiting the clinic, one councillor voted against the motion, and three abstained. Here S&C publishes Emily’s deputation in full, and you can watch the four opposing deputations from religious anti-abortion protesters via the Council’s LiveStream, below.
Good afternoon. Firstly I would like to express not only mine, but the vast majority of Portsmouth’s thanks for having us here today. You can see from the demonstration outside that this is an extremely important subject to the community.
My name is Emily Brotherhood I and am one of the members of Hampshire Pro-Choice…an organisation formed by local residents in order to support access to free, safe and legal health care. I speak [to you today] as a former Royal Air Force medic, a midwife of 7 years, a mother of 5 children and a former patient of BPAS, having had 2 terminations myself. I’m here today to present the case for a Public Spaces Protection Order or similar outside the British Pregnancy Advice Services (BPAS) clinic situated on St Mary’s Health Campus.
I feel that it is very import to stress that we are not anti-life, we are not anti-religion or against free speech. What we are is opposed to anyone placing themselves directly outside health services in an attempt discourage or deter access to that facility. This is not about the ethics of abortion, we are simply campaigning for women to exercise their legal right to access health care and to do so without interference, judgment or harassment and with the anonymity [to which] they are entitled.
St Mary’s Health Campus offers a wide variety of services to the public including maternity and mental health clinics. This Public Spaces Protection Order would serve to benefit not only those using BPAS but everyone using the hospital: from patients and visitors to staff, all of which have been adversely affected by [the] presence of pro-life groups.
You all should have an evidence pack in front of you today and this is just a small collection of the evidence that we have collected over the 40 days [religious anti-abortionists protested outside St Mary’s Hospital] and historically. (Scroll to end of article to download the evidence pack).
From the 27th September until the 5th November, the pro-life religiously motivated group 40 Days for Life have had a continuous presence from 8am until 8pm outside the hospital. The effect this has had on the community has been immeasurable.
If you turn to page 19 of your pack you can read some of the first-hand experiences of local residents who feel very strongly about the negative impact this is having on their community. There are accounts of families changing their route to school to avoid their children being exposed to images and signs that would cause distress. One mother talks of how she had to have difficult conversations with her children that neither were emotionally ready for, residents that felt to intimidated to walk their normal route as they feared being approached and perhaps the most upsetting statement is that of a couple who were returning home from hospital after suffering a miscarriage. To enter their estate they had to pass the congregation and found it extremely distressing.
The secondary school Milton Cross Academy is directly opposite the hospital and the pupils have been faced daily with the overbearing presence of the protesters. These are young adults who may be faced with a situation where they need to access the services that BPAS offer, but ultimately are unable to do so due to fear, intimidation and quite frankly scare tactics used by 40 Days for Life. One pupil openly reports feeling scared and confused.
On page 7 of the evidence pack you can see the large sign attached, without permission from the council, to the railings directly under the Hospitals entrance sign (see image below). Not only are these signs misleading, but have lead to numerous complaints requesting to have them removed by (council contractors) Colas time and again after they were continually displayed without permission. Women accessing the clinic are at their most vulnerable and this is a clear attempt to mislead them at this difficult time. Further signs include statements such as ‘before I formed you in the womb I knew you’ and ‘adoption, thanks mum’. Emotionally manipulative language is being used to try and discourage or deter women from going through with the abortion procedure.
Men in grey clerical robes hold rosary beads and offer them to women passing. Rather distressingly these are coloured pink and blue to relate to the supposed sex of the pregnancy. These men are stationed along the only access by road and the main entrance to hospital and can clearly be heard praying and chanting loudly. Many of the complaints we received included these men and the feeling of fear, intimidation and judgment they evoked amongst clients of not only BPAS but the other clinics on site as well.
40 Days for Life claim to be silently protesting but in our video evidence you can clearly hear and see them marching in large numbers whilst projecting prayers including the words murder, sinner and forgiveness over a megaphone. Stills from the film also show a member of the clergy attempting to enter the hospital.
Given the wide variety of services offered at St Marys it would be impossible for 40 Days for Life [protesters] to only target women using the BPAS clinic and as a result they have handed out leaflets and propaganda to residents, staff members and the local community. Some of the worst paraphernalia including warnings that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, eating disorders and drug and alcohol problems, which of course are unfounded.
Small cards distributed call for people to “spiritually adopt an unborn baby’ in an attempt to save them from abortion. These leaflets understandably leave women and service users, scared, distressed and confused.
BPAS have provided us with some statements from their clients. Women felt judged, intimidated and traumatised by the presence of the protesters. A woman reports the chanting and waving of placards as she entered the car park made her feel like a “bad person” No person should feel harassed, shamed or judged when accessing legal health care.
It is clear that 40 Days for Life are not intending to offer support or advice to women [the 40 Days campaign is measured by the number of ‘saves’ it has achieved, see below], but their real intention is to stop women accessing legal health care to which they are entitled too by means of harassment, intimidation and misinformation.
This [debate] should not be and is not about the morality of abortion. This is strictly about the necessity of enforcing protection [for] and safeguarding the community, vulnerable patients and, most importantly, the women using the services at St Mary’s.
We do not wish to silence or deny free speech to any pro-life organisations but if 40 Days wish to protest against abortion then they should do so by using appropriate channels. The evidence pack clearly shows the levels of harassment, intimidation and emotional manipulation carried out by the pro-life movement and its supporters. I urge you as a council to do the right thing and give residents, patients and the people of Portsmouth the buffer zone St Marys desperately needs.
Find out more:
Hampshire Pro Choice Evidence Pack November 2017 presented to Portsmouth councillors at Full Council meeting, 14th November
Portsmouth City Council Public Report pack, Full Council meeting 14th November, including a motion requesting ‘that a report be brought to the Cabinet Member for Community Safety fully exploring every possible option, including the use of a Public Spaces Protection Order, to create a ‘buffer zone’ around this location to provide the necessary reassurance and security that all women need and deserve as they make their own personal decision about their pregnancy.’
The Council meeting and all deputations are available to watch via Portsmouth City Council’s Livestream account, and the full video can be found at the top of this article.