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Two of the UK’s largest abortion providers, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes, have launched a campaign to create North American-style “buffer zones” around their private abortion facilities to stop pro-life advocates from speaking to women or other passers-by. BPAS denies that its “Back Off” campaign restricts freedom of expression or assembly, while admitting that the effectiveness of the public pro-life demonstrations in recent years is at the root of their complaints.

BPAS claims to speak for all “women,” who they say, “want to be able to enter centres without being confronted by these people.”

They want “specific legislation” stopping all pro-life activity or speech outside any facility where abortions are conducted. These “buffer” or “access” zones “would stop activity taking place directly outside centres, ensure women are not approached unsolicited, and prevent other activities designed to cause distress – eg: filming and strewing the pathway with pictures or models of fetuses.”

Much of the complaints about the rise in the number of pro-life demonstrations outside BPAS and Marie Stopes facilities surrounds the use of large posters of graphic photographic images of aborted children. BPAS has been vocal in the media against the use of the photos, saying they “intimidate” women.

Abort67, however, says that they have no intention of upsetting abortion-minded women, but use the photos precisely in order to “empower” them. They argue that by showing them the unvarnished truth of abortion’s reality, they are giving women the full information that the abortion industry has a vested interest in withholding.

They argue that in an image-oriented culture, photos of the reality of abortion are the only way to break through to a public rendered callous by pro-abortion propaganda. “In our culture the word ‘abortion’ has lost nearly all its meaning. We need to awaken people’s consciences in order for them to know that abortion is an act of violence that kills a baby.” 

“It is definitely not our aim to upset women who have been through the trauma of abortion, however we absolutely believe that the life of an unborn person is considerably more important than hurt feelings,” the group adds.

“We also believe in order for more women not to be damaged by killing their sons and daughters they need to come to terms with the horror of abortion.”

BPAS, an officially non–profit registered charity, is Britain’s largest abortion provider, with over 65,000 clients annually, operating in 36 centres and 19 clinics throughout the UK. They are paid by the tax-funded National Health Service for nearly all of their abortions. The great majority of the abortions in the UK are conducted in the private facilities of organizations like BPAS and Marie Stopes.

Despite the close and privileged status BPAS enjoys with the British government, a spokesman of the Home Office has said it is unlikely that their demand will be met. The Christian Institute quotes the unnamed spokesman saying, “Peaceful protest is a vital part of a democratic society, provided it is conducted within the law.”

“Rights to peaceful protest do not extend to threatening behaviour and the police have powers to deal with any such acts.”

In a debate on BBC Radio last week with BPAS head Ann Furedi, the founder of Abort67, Andrew Stephenson, clarified that the work of his organization is not to “protest” abortion but “simply to expose it” for what it is and to inform the public, including the people most immediately affected by it.

BPAS and other abortion industry players, he says, are businesses and are attempting to impose restrictions on legitimate criticism that is hurting their bottom line. BPAS conducts about 55,000 abortions a year of the nearly 200,000 in England and Wales.

During the debate Furedi admitted repeatedly that BPAS’s objection was that the displays were hurting “business.” Asked by the BBC’s Stephen Nolan what kind of “protest” would be acceptable, she replied, “Protest that is acceptable that is not attempting to stop a lawful business.”

But Abort67 does not block entrances to the BPAS facilities, and are monitored continuously by police. “If they saw any of the kind of behaviour that Ann has described this morning, they would rightly arrest us but it isn't going on,” Stephenson said.

“All we are doing is exposing what you are doing to the unborn child. How can it be right for you to have access to women and tell them that abortion is simply the gentle suction that removes a pregnancy when the information that we give them, convinces them in a very short time that abortion is an act of violence that kills their baby?’

He added, “You are outraged, Ann, that you have lost control of the narrative. You want to talk about choice and reproductive healthcare; we’re forcing you to defend killing babies.”

This interpretation is regularly supported on the other side of the abortion divide who have lately expressed their shock that the abortion debate has been so effectively wrenched open by Abort67 and the graphic displays and BPAS’s efforts to shut them down.

In an editorial on the website Left Foot Forward, Ruby Stockham said this week, “I had thought that the abortion debate was over in the UK, or at least that it had reached a sort of plateau. Opposition voices have not come close to making any serious changes to the Abortion Act since it was amended in 1990 to reduce the time limit to 24 weeks,” she wrote.

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Even the BPAS “buffer zone” campaign website admits to the success of the sidewalk displays, saying, “Recently, NHS staff on premises where a clinic is located have felt so intimidated by the presence outside they have asked for the abortion service to be withdrawn. The closure of a service as a result of anti-abortion activity would be unprecedented.”

“Because this activity is quite unusual there is no legislation in place that covers the scope of what is occurring outside clinics and allows the police to take effective action to prevent it.”

The BPAS campaign is being supported by a large coalition of pro-abortion organizations, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Midwives.

Peter D. Williams, head of Right to Life, said that although his organization does not agree with the graphic images strategy, it is clear that BPAS’s campaign is an attempt to infringe on the legal rights of those conducting legal demonstrations.

Although Right to Life believes the poster displays “may be counter-productive,” whatever form a public demonstration takes, “such vigils have as much legal right to public protest as any other cause,” he told the Catholic Herald.

“Limiting this right in a public space as BPAS is calling for Government to do, apparently according solely to their subjective effects on some individuals, would be an illiberal and speech-chilling attempt by the abortion lobby to restrict their opponents,” he said.

“Regardless of what we think of the prudence or wisdom of individual protests or protestors, all people of good will should zealously guard our freedoms to act and speak in the public square,” he added.