This article contains images some readers may find upsetting.
Labour MP Stella Creasy has condemned “vile” anti-abortion campaigners after they posted graphic advertisements featuring an unborn foetus around her constituency, including on a billboard.
Creasy, who is pregnant, said she has been subjected to a campaign of “harassment” by activists from the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK (CBR UK), which included a protest at the weekend and adverts being posted on a billboard, bus stops, and a phone box around Walthamstow.
On Monday, Creasy called on Twitter for the Met Police to take action in response to the billboard, and for Clear Channel Direct – the owners of the billboard – to account for allowing it to be erected.
The graphic poster, which included a link to a website dedicated to criticising Creasy’s pro-choice views, purported to show a foetus at nine weeks, with clearly defined fingers and toes, and already five centimetres long.
This contradicts a week-by-week guide to pregnancy published by the NHS, which clearly states that at nine weeks a foetus is just 22mm long, and with only grooves where fingers and would be.
After receiving a wave of complaints online, Clear Channel Direct, which owns the advertising space, pulled the billboard, apologised for the campaign and said it was “reviewing our internal processes”.
The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment from HuffPost UK, and Creasy called on the company to donate the sum it had been paid by CBR UK to the Abortion Support Network charity.
The Advertising Standards Authority confirmed it had received complaints about the billboard and were “assessing” comments in order to determine whether further action is necessary.
A spokesperson said: “Our rules state that adverts must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
“Adverts may be distasteful without necessarily breaking this rule.
“We will carefully assess any complaints we receive about this ad and establish if there are grounds for any further action.”
Creasy has also appealed to Home Secretary Priti Patel to look into legislation introducing “buffer zones” designed to prevent anti-abortion campaigners from targeting individuals.
In 2018, then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid oversaw the Abortion Clinic Protest Review, which concluded that “introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response” to protests outside abortion clinics, which the review said featured a “majority of activities [which] are more passive in nature.”
A Home Office spokesperson described the issue on Monday as “sensitive and complex”.
The spokesperson said: “The right to protest is a vital part of a democratic society, but it is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated.
“We expect the police to take a firm stance against protesters who significantly disrupt the lives of others and use the full force of the law. There are already powers in place for police to restrict harmful protest activity.”
Anti-abortion groups have called Creasy a hypocrite simply for being pregnant, and drawn attention to comments she had made about her own experience with miscarriage in an attempt to support their claims.
The campaign against Creasy follows her work in the House of Commons to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland via an amendment approved by 332 votes to 99.
The MP has been vocal about the targeted protests on Twitter, writing: “If you think coming to my home town to harass me and accusing me of wanting to kill babies on here is going to change my mind or make me stop speaking up for women’s rights you really haven’t met me.”
She also said that the solidarity she had been shown had made her “heart sing”, and slammed the campaigners as “vile people”.
Hours after Creasy posted about the harassment, she took to Twitter to share pictures of the billboards, now whitewashed, and wrote: “Walthamstow has my back.”
Campaigners also took to Walthamstow’s high street over the weekend as part of a planned protest, displaying pictures of Creasy alongside a graphic picture of an aborted foetus and the words “your MP is working hard... to make this a human right”.
When approached for a comment about the campaign on Monday, Met Police said it had nothing more to add following their attendance at this weekend’s protest.
A police spokesperson said: “Police attended a small, planned protest consisting of a number of individuals at Walthamstow town centre on Saturday 28 September.
“Officers listened to concerns about the content of parts of the protest but no criminal offences were committed or disclosed.
“There were no arrests. The protest concluded peacefully.”
The spokesperson also pointed out that public spaces protection orders were not aimed at preventing lawful protest, but could be used “to deter persistent unreasonable anti-social behaviour that is to the detriment of the community”.