Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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'It feels like Texas': running the gauntlet of Belfast's anti-abortion protesters

Henry McDonald examines the tactics being waged against staff and visitors to the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast. Henry McDonald is Ireland correspondent at The Guardian.
  • Volunteers who escort women past ‘pro-life’ demonstrators at Marie Stopes sexual health clinic report shocking tactics of anti-abortion protesters

Anti-abortion protesters outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast in 2012. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

Armed with walkie-talkies and body cameras, they guide women through a gauntlet of demonstrators who are hurling abuse and waving plastic foetuses outside the only clinic in the UK under permanent siege from anti-abortionists.

The female volunteer escorts record every comment and insult hurled at the Belfast clinic’s clients. Women are told they have just killed their child, foetus dolls are thrust in their faces and their aborted embryos are “christened” with names on the street.

The Marie Stopes sexual health clinic is calling for more volunteers to help protect the women who come from all over Ireland to use its services.

Unlike the rest of the UK, most terminations for unwanted pregnancies are illegal in Northern Ireland’s hospitals. But the Marie Stopes clinic carries out medical, not surgical, procedures up to nine weeks gestation, keeping it within the law. That has made it a target for anti-abortion activists.

Emma Campbell and Clare Bailey, two volunteers who, armed with body cameras, escort women from the Marie Stopes clinic. ‘It feels like Texas,’ said Campbell. Photograph: Paul McErlane for the Guardian

Emma Campbell was shocked by the intensity of the “pro-life” demonstrations outside Marie Stopes when it first opened in Belfast in 2012. The 36-year-old photographer signed up last autumn to become a volunteer escort. She said:
Sometimes it feels like you are in one of those American states on the frontline of the abortion wars such as Texas. I have had to walk the women out through the protests all the way to the railway and bus stations across the road and sometimes into the city centre.

The anti-abortion activists tell women leaving the clinic:

things like: ‘You are now the mother of a dead baby!’ or: ‘We have named your dead baby Theresa.’ I have had plastic foetus dolls pushed right in front of my face as well as those disturbing blood soaked images of what they claim are abortions on giant posters. They have even brought down loudspeakers outside on the street and played recordings of a baby crying. Just before Christmas they brought a manger, but without the baby Jesus in it to symbolise dead babies.

The clinic is open for appointments only on Thursdays and Fridays, when Campbell escorts three to four women.

Most of our work involves taking the women, their family members, loved ones and friends out of the clinic after they have been inside. The overwhelming majority choose to get escorted out because they are so shocked at what they hear and see on the way in.

Since starting her volunteer activities, Campbell has removed herself from social media because of the level of vitriol directed towards her.

They say things like: ‘May God forgive you,’ or predict you are going to hell. I can live with it but it is the women and their families we escort out who I feel for. There is zero compassion towards them.

Bernadette Smyth leaves Belfast magistrates court after she was given a five-year order banning her from the vicinity of the clinic for harassing the clinic’s director. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

There is now a near-permanent police presence in the foyer of the building that houses the Marie Stopes clinic. The Police Service of Northern Ireland deployed officers only after a landmark court ruling in November found that one of Ireland’s most prominent anti-abortion figures, Precious Life founder Bernadette Smyth, was guilty of harassing the clinic’s Belfast director, Dawn Purvis, and banned from demonstrating outside the clinic. Smyth has lodged an appeal, set for 11 May, against the judgment. Clare Bailey, another escort, said she and her volunteer partner “record every incident”. Recently the demonstrators had also taken to carrying cameras to record both clients and escorts. She said: 
We make sure everything is recorded which can be handed over to the police. We try to keep talking to the women, to reassure them, to keep their minds off what is being said to them by the protesters. They follow the clients right into railway stations and Belfast city centre. Our job is to keep the women safe and ensure they get away from the protests as quickly as possible. The other thing to note is that some of the women we escort may not even be in the clinic for medical terminations. They could be in simply for advice about family planning methods or sexually transmitted infections. Of course we never ever ask why they were in the clinic. It is not our business, we are just there to protect them as best as we can.
Although barred from the area outside the clinic, Smyth vowed the protests will continue until the clinic is forced to close. She said the escorts were “only there as a ruse to prevent women speaking to our people, who include trained counsellors, who can give these women advice and alternatives to abortion”. She denied that anti-abortion demonstrators engage in verbal abuse and said the escorts “are shouting at our people, they are bullying our protesters and they are rushing women out before they hear the full story”. Marie Stopes volunteers reject the accusations. Marie Stopes said the presence of volunteers had altered the behaviour of the protesters.
The safety and care of women using our services is paramount, so in Belfast where our clinic is subject to daily harassment from protesters we have recruited and trained volunteer escorts to help every woman who requests help, both to and from the centre. It is the only UK clinic where we have used them. As a result of their commitment and dedication to their role, we have witnessed a marked change in the behaviour of the protesters for the better.


Anonymous said...

It's disgusting that this behaviour is even legal. These people aren't trying to save or defend anyone. Their sole object is to intimidate and upset women who are already dealing with a difficult decision. If I weren't in Waterford, I would absolutely volunteer.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

that was ott.

pat murphy said...

Grouch,as the jes oui Charlie's would say you are entitled to your opinion,or would they pick and choose who has the right of free speech?. As for miss or Mrs ruby you say the protestors are not trying to save or defend anyone,what about the defenceless unborn,does it not deserve protection from these vile abortionists?.

Anonymous said...

no, i was talking about my deleted comment.

Anonymous said...

Women should have the choice simple as that! There are vile drug dalers runing bout Belfast killing children through the sale of both legal highs and illegal drugs! Has mr Murphy got the courage to stand outside their door or the nigh clubs were they begin their murder process! Course he doesn't the cowardly besterds aren't that big ! Women in a vulnerable state are easy targets for these bully boy thugs! Free choice! away and tackle muders that do kill living people! No bet u haven't got the b**ls? They make me sick!

DaithiD said...

If a woman gets pregnant and wants to keep the baby, but the father doesnt, he will still have to pay maintenance. If the woman gets pregnant and wants to abort the baby, but the father doesnt, his opinion has no bearing. There are more rights involved in this than just the females, even if you dont accept that what they are carrying is a life. Its a shame those protesters who are coming from a place of love are so demonised. I can recommend the Eric Rudolph biography Memoirs of a Militant was a really good read on this theme.

pat murphy said...

Che,good to hear another angle from the pro abortion front. Drug dealers,are you for real?.

Anonymous said...

Neither church nor state has a role to play in regulating women’s bodies.

And if you want some more reasons to support that statement have a look at

or even

sorry for the lists of posts - Believe me it's a lot shorter than trying to summarise all the various topics and arguments for and against them.
The conclusion is always the same

Anonymous said...

My point is, is that there are many entities that take life. Drug dealers, check the stats with relation to drug fuelled deaths is if the scale! So I ask why do you people of such concern for human life not challenge them, the way you challenge a female that is most likely in an upset, distressed, vulnerable state! A female that should have ultimate choice over her body!

The answer is people like you will make a hundred reasons why not to challenge death dealers, but the real
Reason is you and people like you are cowardly bastards!
Fuck off and grow a set if not get a life!

pat murphy said...

Look here prick if you want to discuss drug dealers start a thread about drug dealers. If you want to talk about queers start a thread about queers. That is your choice. You don't know me and from what I can surmise about you thankfully I don't know you either so I don't think gutter insults further your intelligent contribution to any debate or discussion. You would appear from your response to be well educated to join the protestors whom you seen to dispise so much. Your fascination with my balls or lack of intreagues me. Bum boy by any chance?.

AM said...

This is moving well away from being a discussion to a slanging match.

Che you more than anyone else are out of order.

AM said...

Amnesty calls for reform of ‘draconian’ NI abortion law

Anonymous said...

che, for someone who dusnt seem to like drug dealers u sound like ur on drugs. the last person u can call a coward is someone who stands up for the unborn. a woman has the right to choose what to do with her body, just as ive the right to do what i want with mine, but she, me or any other person has not got the right to end a SEPERATE UNIQUE INNOCENT life. saying a woman has the right to choose what to do with her body makes abortion like going and getting ur appendix removed. a child in the womb IS ITS OWN BODY, UNIQUELY CREATED and not a part of a womans body.abortion and all the other anti life agendas are pushed promoted and endorsed by the elites who control our society who want to destroy the family (well done u guys, its working) and the idiotic gay lesbian womens right groups which are so gloatingly endorsed by the anti life mainstream media.

Anonymous said...

amnesty international, is that the crowd george soros funds. good for nothing but spreading propaganda for the globalist agenda. they are well and truly part of the system now. if u dont believe, google what this outfit got up to in eritrea. they are a FRAUD. all these 'human rights' (except for babies) organisations are dominated/infiltrated by the globalist movers and shakers.

Anonymous said...

All I'm saying is , if it was big burly men geting an aborations, I'm sure people like the shower of crap that stand down in belfast protected by their fellow state thugs would be no were to be seen!

Typical cowards, attack and abuse an easy target make your self all big and important!

Away get a job or something keep your we narrow mind occupied! Yea and I support rights for all, even yours ya fool!

Anonymous said...

One other we thing! Did any of u protestors ever feel the need to stand outside Brit mod recruitment centres! A place were they actively recruit murders to kill innocent citizens around the world ! No bet you don't!

Don't want to feel the rath of an angry recruitment seargant! Now you have an example of people that actively kill others with no right or justification go and protest outside their doors! No?

Amnesty int has been corrupted for years! Common knowledge my friend!