After so many years trying to get the voices of women and staff who had experienced harassment and intimidation at the hands of anti-abortion campaigners outside clinics heard, it was at least something to hear a minister finally acknowledge the profoundly negative impact those actions can have.
Thousands of pieces of evidence were submitted to the Home Office review of abortion clinic protests, including accounts from women who had encountered protesters many years before. It wasn’t their decision to end the pregnancy that haunted them, it was the feeling of being publicly accosted at an intensely private and personal moment.
While abortion is a common experience, for that individual woman it will likely be the only time in her life that she experiences it, and the circumstances around that - how she is cared for and what she encounters - matter.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid acknowledged the damage that the activity we’ve seen outside clinics can cause, and the extent of it, with one tenth of clinics recently affected. But his preferred option was to do nothing decisive and let others sort it out.
We’re on it, and we have options. The Ealing Council buffer zone which was introduced in April of this year after many years of campaigning by the wonderful Sister Supporter has been incredibly successful in reducing harassment at their local clinic.
We will be working with other councils in affected areas to roll out similar models in the months to come.
We live in a pro-choice country where the vast majority of us support a woman’s right to make her own decision about whether to continue a pregnancy. Even among the dwindling numbers who oppose that right, very few are driven to harangue women outside abortion clinics. The public airing this issue has received in recent years, the fact that so many people have made clear their opposition to this behaviour, has created an environment which has made anti-abortion campaigners think twice about whether this is an activity they want to get involved in.
It’s vital that the overwhelming public feeling of abhorrence towards this activity continues to be loudly and clearly expressed.
The fact is whether it is one woman who experiences harassment or 100, it’s still one too many, and we will keep working until every woman in the country is guaranteed safe and confidential access to pregnancy advice and abortion care, without the threat of being accosted on the street outside. If the council-led public space protection orders (PSPOs) and police guidance suggested by the Home Office do not meet women’s needs, we will not hesitate to find a national legislative solution.
When it comes to women’s reproductive rights, it’s never plain sailing. It took the best part of 17 years for the government to finally authorise evidence-based medicine is the form of home use of early abortion medication; the decision last Summer to allow women from Northern Ireland access to funded care in England was long in the power of the health secretary, but it took superb political manoeuvring by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to force the government’s hand on this; and it took much longer than it should have to secure women’s access to affordable emergency contraception as we did last year - and there is still a long way to go.
But we promise women - from Belfast to Brighton - that we’ll get there.
Clare Murphy is the Director of External Affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service