This is our truth, tell us yours
There has been a lot of discussion of the suggestion by Yvette Cooper that protests outside clinics that provide abortions be made illegal. It is, as this article states, already the law in some parts of America, and in France. Last night an email arrived in my inbox asking me to sign a petition supporting this. It seems, as they say, as no brainer. I have spoken to people who “protect the zone” in the US, they are brave, selfless individuals. I support the right of any pregnant person to end, or continue with, their pregnancy. The basic right of bodily autonomy must be defended, however I could not sign the petition.
There is a saying, I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it. I find the behaviour of the forced abortion brigade abhorrent, and am ashamed that we share a faith. In my opinion they are Christian in name only, forgetting that Jesus preached love and understanding. However banning a protest because I personally find it abhorrent goes against everything I believe in. Last week kinksters sex workers and anti censorship protesters staged a mass face sitting outside parliament. I am pretty sure lots of people thought on moral and decency grounds it should have been banned. Thats the core of the problem here, once we say this protest should be banned, we open the door to every protest offending someone.
The reply of some will no doubt be, these are pregnant people, therefore they are vulnerable. This is basically sexist, paternalistic hogwash. Being pregnant does not turn you into either a child, an imbecile or someone incapable of making a descions. It’s very odd that a lot of the arguments about protecting the clinics seem based on the most outdated misogynistic ideas, that once fertilization takes place you become awash with hormones and other strange effects that mean you need to be protected from the harshness of the real world. A Victorian view that when you conceive the only safe option is to be treated like a delicate flower who will wilt if someone so much as looks at you wrong.
Of course some people attending the clinics will be vulnerable, not because they are pregnant but because of other circumstances, they may well be children, or survivors of rape, or a whole host of other considerations. Rather than banning protests though I believe this group would be far better helped by speeding up access to abortions, by making it far easier to get chemical abortions, by removing the ridiculous second doctor rule and all the other barriers which delay access. Far too often people are having to attend the clinics because they could not get the treatment they needed earlier in their pregnancy.
Another issue which must be tackled is the fact on the pavement, and in their own clinics forced birthers claim to be offering counselling. Now I leave the campaign for the regulation of counselling to far better qualified voices like Phil Dore and Amanda Williamson, but this seems to be an area where it would be a huge benefit. This is not counselling, and if counselling became a protected profession like nursing these extremists would not be able to claim it was.
We have laws against harassment, against blocking the pavement, even against being a public nuisance. These laws need to be enforced. We need to also make access to a whole range of reproductive options easier and shame free. We must not though set a dangerous precedent of banning a protest because we do not like what the protesters are saying.