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Special report: Pro-lifers target Brighton clinic
A rape victim says she was filmed by pro-life campaigners as she visited a Sussex abortion clinic.
The woman, who is also suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, said the experience made her short of breath and feeling “panicky”.
She was one of many women seeking help from the Wistons Clinic in Brighton who recorded their feelings about the pro-life campaigners outside the gates.
In a letter released by the clinic to The Argus the woman wrote: “I feel intimidated by being filmed. I was raped and have post traumatic stress disorder.
"I felt calm coming here and now I can’t breathe and feel panicy and judged, last thing I needed.”
Campaigners from the Abort 67 group have staged regular demonstrations outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s Wistons Clinic in Chatsworth Road, Brighton, for years.
A member of staff at Wistons ClinicOur visitors are often in a vulnerable state and the staff are just doing their jobs
But as the group is backed by American pro-life lobbyists, critics have condemned the way it has intensified its approach.
Virtually every woman, including staff, is accosted by opinionated protesters as they walk through the gates of the clinic.
The 40 Days For Life campaigners are running what they describe as the “largest and longest co-ordinated pro-life mobilisation in history”.
One visitor said her way into the clinic had been blocked by the protesters.
After concerns about the tactics being used to spread the message were raised, The Argus visited the clinic during the last two consecutive weeks.
On each occasion reporters were approached by pro-life protesters.
On the first occasion, a campaigner asked me personal medical questions, instructed me to look at the face and hands of a baby picture if I were scanned at the clinic, and told me our souls needed praying for – both mine and my ‘unborn child’.
The protesters handed out glossy propaganda pamphlets, telling stories of 12-year-old incest victims whose lives were improved by keeping their unwanted pregnancies.
A teenage girl in school uniform who sat on the street near the clinic told The Argus she was “helping” the pro-life campaigners.
On the second occasion they again offered to give our reporter leaflets containing graphic images and suspect medical claims.
As a police car kept watch on the protestors they did not try to push any further.
City leaders from each of the main political parties have signed a petition calling for the withdrawal of all support for the Abort 67 group.
The petition, which has been signed by MPs Mike Weatherley and Caroline Lucas, and many city councillors, says: “Abort67 tactics include large graphic imagery displayed outside the clinic entrance. They target people who are already in a vulnerable position, trying to stop them exercising their legal right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.”
Staff working at the clinic say they too are confronted by the campaigners.
One member of staff said: “They stop everyone, whoever they are, if they come in. It can be upsetting.
"Our visitors are often in a vulnerable state and the staff are just doing their jobs.”
A spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service that runs the Wistons Clinic said: “This is something that we are very concerned about, and it can have an extremely upsetting effect on the women who are seeking our advice and services.
“We have written to the Newfrontiers church in Worthing which supports Abort67 asking them to reconsider their endorsement, but they have made clear they think these tactics are acceptable.
“We absolutely support people’s right to protest against abortion and campaign to change public opinion, but we do not believe that haranguing pregnant women as they try to access support and services is either a compassionate or constructive way to go about this.”
The Brighton and Hove Green group of councillors said in a statement in support of the pro-choice campaign: “We are aware that past protests have involved intimidating tactics and graphic images, which are unacceptable and exploit women who are often in a vulnerable position.”
MP Caroline Lucas added: “The right to abortion services is defined by current law.
“Women accessing the service are behaving lawfully and want to do so unimpeded, like any other law-abiding citizen.”
Councillor Gill Mitchell, on behalf of the Labour and Co-op group, said: “We are totally opposed to this type of intimidating behaviour that is expressly aimed at women who are going through a difficult and sensitive time.
"Putting forward a view for or against abortion is one thing but these tactics are simply wrong and should be condemned.”
Conservative councillors including Mary Mears, Ann Norman and Andrew Wealls have also signed the petition.
ABORT67 describes itself as a “public education project” named after the Abortion Act passed in 1967 making abortion legal in Britain.
Members say they are a non- religious organisation but are supported by the evangelical Jubilee Church in Teville Place, Worthing.
Abort67 spokesman Andy Stephenson said there were two separate groups of protesters outside Wistons – Abort67 and 40 Days For Life.
He added: “What people feel about certain situations will be different for each person.
“Ten people really don’t care and a few people will.
“Whether people have a problem with us is subjective. Different people feel different things about it.
“If people feel uncomfortable then it is because they feel uncomfortable about the truth.
“We are not calling anybody a murderer. If people feel they are murderers then that is on them.
“We are filming for our own security and to show we are not acting illegally.
“If people think we are doing something wrong then they should call the police and take us to court and we will prove them wrong.
“I have no concerns about teenagers supporting us. We have supporters of all ages.
“I have never met a 13 year old girl who thinks abortion is a good thing.”