2010 wasn't the best year for the UK. We gained a coalition government, the newspapers had a tiring fixation with the recently announced royal engagement, and 40 Days For Life finally made their way across the pond. The American anti-choice organisation, which carries out vigils outside abortion clinics in the hope of dissuading people from going ahead with their termination, finally crossed the Atlantic Ocean to spread their unwanted faux-wisdom across this nation as well as their own. That year and every year since, from September the 25th until November the 3rd, 40DFL collect outside abortion clinics and ensure that people in need of abortions during the autumn period cannot do so without low-level religious harassment.
While 40DFL emphasise the 'peaceful' nature of their protests, make no mistake about what they are doing. By gathering outside clinics and attempting to speak to the people that go in and out, they make a deliberate attempt to intimidate vulnerable people into abstaining from a medical procedure that they have ascertained they need. When 40DFL speak of 'turnarounds' that they have persuaded into not going through with their abortions, they are speaking of people who have made the potentially personally difficult process of organising and then attending a private medical appointment, only to be prevented at the last hurdle by those who believe that the worlds' uteri are their business. By distributing literature that is littered with medical falsehoods - such as the widely discredited claim that breast cancer is a potential risk of abortion - they place scaremongering and deceitful propaganda morally above the notion of informed decision-making. Attempting to persuade people heading into the clinics that they will contract a serious disease as a result of exercising their right to choose is dishonest to the point of outrageous, and betrays an inherent disregard for the importance of human freedom. Like many so-called pro-lifers, 40 Days For Life's methods are so far removed from the scope of care and compassion that it is difficult to see just how they can justify their position as pro-life, as opposed to pro-bodily control.
The problem with these groups, aside from the fact that they quite literally hang out outside medical centres preying on patients under the guise of praying for them, is that they are determined to drag the personal into the political. Abortion is an inherently individual act; it is a decision that is made based on the circumstances and wishes of the person who is pregnant, and absolutely nobody else. Denying the right to termination, however ineffectually the attempts to do so may be, treats people not as human beings with agency but as breathing incubators. A uterus is not simply a storage space/IV drip combo for a cluster of cells to develop in regardless of its owner's wishes. It is a part of a human being's body: one small component of a person with ambitions and dreams and a future that should not be dictated by the status of their womb.
40 Days For Life may not be as violent as anti-choice campaigners have been in the past, but this doesn't mean that they are outright harmless. Recommending the 'crisis pregnancy centres' that are really religious organisations masquerading as safe places for pregnant people to go to for advice is an underhanded way of limiting a person's choice and steering them towards a life they may not want to live. Spreading misinformation about the effects and aftermath of abortion is emotionally manipulative and socially irresponsible. And forming a physical barrier between a person and the medical procedure they need to preserve their quality of life is a silent and passive-aggressive rejection of a pregnant person's right to bodily autonomy.
40 Days For Life will be carrying out their protests from now until the beginning of November in London, Leamington Spa, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Twickenham and Cardiff. Although their protests are happily ill-attended most of the time, those who wish to organise counter-movements by handing out medically accurate information about abortions or engaging in clinic escorting can view the schedule for the proposed vigils by finding their location on the map and then looking up the calendar for that area. To stand against anti-lifers from home, donate to the sexual health charity Brook through the counter-organisation 40 Days Of Choice, who are aiming to raise £1000 for the Education For Choice campaign. People like those who make up 40 Days For Life are constantly trying to undermine our right to choose - it is our responsibility to ensure they cannot succeed.