Sometimes there’s no obvious way to tackle bullying or harassment. The 40 Days For Life US-based anti-abortion group has set up in the UK, and is picketing abortion clinics across the country. In particular it is targeting a site run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which offers family planning counselling to thousands of women a year, and is the UK’s largest independent provider of abortion care.
Staff and patients at the clinics have complained of intimidation from the protestors, who’ve also been accused of filming staff members and women using the clinic’s services, though the group says those filming were not affiliated with their protest.
There are legitimate ways to campaign against abortion, but intimidating women outside clinics – deliberately or otherwise – is not one of them.
But how can such aggressive tactics be stopped? Simply launching a counter-protest outside the clinic in London’s Bedford Square might make things worse: the atmosphere for women trying to use these services in private would become still more charged, and the abortion clinic door risks being legitimised as a place of protest.
A group of us had a different idea: turning the anti-abortion vigils into a fundraising exercise for BPAS.
We asked people to donate money for each day the 40 days for Life vigils continue, whether it’s 50p, £1 or £5 per day. The longer the anti-abortionists’ campaign, the more money a worthwhile pro-choice charity receives.
The response was fantastic, raising £1,000 in just two hours and nearly £2,000 by the end of the first day – all from small donations. Comments from donors were amazing, and touching:
"Here’s my tiny contribution to say thank you to BPAS, who supported my own difficult decision four years ago," said one. "I only hope these thugs who so lack in compassion and empathy do not stop the amazing work that BPAS do every day."
Another wrote: “The protesters do not have a right to harass these women who are already undergoing a terribly stressful time. Awful conduct.”
The best reaction, however, came from BPAS staff themselves: “The whole thing has actually reduced some of us to reaching for tissues! I guess it’s a bit novel for people to be so spontaneously generous to us,” BPAS chief executive Ann Furedi wrote on the donation page. “It sends a lovely message to all our staff.”
There’s more than one way to stand up to a bully.
• You can donate to the campaign here.
• Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters