Last night Ealing made history. After a long and painstaking evidence gathering process, Ealing council has agreed to create safe zones outside their Marie Stopes clinic so that women aren’t harassed and threatened by pro-life protesters as they enter.
As a victim of this exact kind of intimidation, my reaction is layered but I am of course very excited by the potential here. I had an abortion in July 2017 in Richmond. I was accosted by a man (ironic) wielding loud and graphic leaflets and telling me he could help me. More protesters arrived throughout the day, usually armed with placards displaying truly horrid images of foetuses, with their final crescendo of harassment taking the form of a different man chasing me down the street as he prayed for my salvation. My initial thought was “what if I was a 15-year-old girl who had been raped?” as an example of someone who would find this particularly distressing. I am a 26-year-old woman with a successful career and a loving relationship. I still didn’t want a baby and I still felt cowed and dirty as a result of their actions, despite my utter confidence in the decision I’d made.
So yes, this is a win for women’s rights. Freedom of speech shouldn’t come into it when in any form harassment in other contexts wouldn’t be tolerated. I also find it incredibly hypocritical that protesters would utilise this right when they are solely motivated by the possibility of us yielding ours. We should be trusted to make our own decisions and feel empowered by the services available to us. Scuttling away from an angry Christian didn’t make me or any of the other women who have experienced this feel very trusted. And anyway, no one is telling pro-lifers not to have or even to protest about these opinions, it’s just wildly inappropriate and crass to do it outside the site of a healthcare provider.
Possibly noteworthy, as a larger underlying issue, is that it took over 1000 pages of evidence to constitute a viable and watertight case. It begs the question: how many women had to dredge up their distressing and frightening experiences before this was taken seriously? Was it really important for us to all be put on the stand?
Still, this is a victory that we must take seriously. No longer can protesters harass and intimidate women trying to access essential healthcare and no longer can they tout a loving religion as their motivation. Access healthcare that you are absolutely entitled to with your head held high. Walk through the door without facing judgement and return to your car without shielding yourself from scorn… in Ealing. You can do all of this as long as you’re in Ealing. I wasn’t. Many aren’t. I hope this is the start of a snowballing trend across the country.
Lily Appleton is a pseudonym.