40 Days Spreads to the UK

Today’s guest post comes from Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer, who also blogs for The F-Word, Where’s the Benefit? and her own personal blog. She can be found procrastinating on twitter both personally (@incurablehippie) and professionally (@philippawrites), and she enjoys good food, good friends, and nature.

If you’d like to submit your own guest post, let us know!

It is often said that what happens in America will eventually come over here to the UK. Even those things that we think would never catch on in our rather different culture can make a surprising appearance a year or two after we’ve been shocked about it happening in the States. And while there has always been anti-abortion activism here, some of the anti-choice tactics in the US are unfortunately occurring in Britain more and more frequently.

British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is the UK’s largest abortion provider. While terminations are available for free on the National Health Service (NHS), there is sometimes a waiting list that is long enough to make women look for private alternatives. A campaign called 40 Days for Life has taken up residence outside one of BPAS’s clinics in London and is holding what they describe as ‘prayer vigils.’

There have been anti-abortion vigils and protests outside clinics before, but this is the most sustained and the one that has received the most media attention, by far. The 40 Days for Life appears to be part of a US campaign of the same name, and is endorsed by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in the UK. They are accused of photographing the women entering the clinic; and, as if that wasn’t intimidation enough, another anti-choicer has pleaded guilty to hacking into the BPAS website. 40 Days has even boasted about how successful their intimidation tactics have proven to be.

I remember the first time I found two abortion clinic escort blogs a few years ago. I was stunned. I had no idea things were so bad in the States, that protesters targeted the women so directly, so cruelly, and so misleadingly. I read the entire archives in one day. I also thought that at least things could never get so bad here, surely. Where, despite church and state being inextricably linked, the power of evangelical Christians is less pronounced.

Was I wrong? Will we need clinic escorts in a few more months or years? The 40 Days for Life protest in London is causing BPAS to at least consider the option:

“[A BPAS spokesperson] was reluctant to embrace US pro-choice actions such as having volunteers escort women past protests, but the presence of anti-abortion activists outside the BPAS clinic in Bedford Square on one recent day had been such that members of the public had intervened to escort women inside.”

Will we also be fighting enforced vaginal ultrasounds in another few years? Will we have whole counties with no abortion provision? Will women’s health clinics be defunded just because one of the services they provide is termination?

My first thought is, “Of course not!” These are some of those “only in America” things. Aren’t they? But so were 12-hour-long daily vigils with patients being photographed and attempts made to dissuade them as they enter the clinic.

America, we love your technology, we love your sitcoms, and Dexter is terrifyingly good. However, there are other things that we really don’t want on this side of the Atlantic. Actually, we don’t want them to be occurring on your side of the pond either.

It’s time for an international campaign for choice. Abortion is outlawed in Ireland, it is being threatened in the UK by both campaigners and politicians, it is being severely limited and compromised in the States, and in many other countries around the world women have no access to safe reproductive healthcare at all.

In today’s world, where national borders are dissolving in the face of the Internet, we can no longer expect that those who aim to prevent women having access to what they need will keep their campaigns to themselves. A US-based anti-choice website will be read in the UK, South Africa, Russia, India, and any other country you can think of. Underhanded tactics spread more quickly than ever, and to fight back, websites like Feminists for Choice are vital.

What is happening in the US at the moment is horrifying, and it must be fought not just for the sake of Americans, but also for people all over the world where the anti-choice rhetoric is undoubtedly already being studied, to be applied by campaigners locally.

Author’s Note: Since writing this post I have been made aware that a survivor of rape has reported feeling intimidated after being filmed at a protest at an abortion clinic in Brighton. The protesters have no idea about the multitude of reasons that the women are visiting the clinic and having terminations. Challenging – and filming – people with no understanding of why they are there demonstrates, in my opinion, a lack of any kind of ethics, conscience or basic humanity. They made this woman’s experience needlessly traumatic and difficult, and there is no excuse for that. 


  1. Drives me batty that these so-called people of conscience have no conscience!

  2. Join our counter-protest to 40 Days for Life on Friday night! Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/139249196201136/

  3. We have in Brighton been mobilising against them – we’re doing a counter-campaign called 40 days of TREATS where we’re giving BPAS clinic workers random treats like nice tea, cakes, cards, etc. It serves to prevent escalation outside the clinic and instead positively impact on the clinic workers.

    Have a look here http://www.brightonfeministcollective.org.uk/home/pro-choice-campaign if you want to help out!

  4. So sorry to hear that US anti-choice tactics are invading the UK. But it’s good to hear that random people on the street were helping patients get into the clinic. That says a lot for your British sensibilities. I doubt that would ever happen in the US.

  5. Brittany says:

    I have heard about many instances of violence and lack of respect from both pro-life and pro-choice sides. It is unfortunate that some people do not have the sensibility to remember we are all people and deserve to be treated as such.
    In participating in 40 Days of Life, my young adult friends and I have never experienced any harrassment except a few people yelling at us. We followed the law and stayed off the abortion facility property. In our situation, and other situations people I know were involved in, most participants prayed silently or out loud while others offered pamphalets to those entering the facility from our side of the property. I have received pro-choice pamphalets from my physician and was not offended this. I hope no one we encountered felt judged or bothered by our presence, as the overall aim we were going for was that of peace and and an offer of help.
    Again, I freely admit that others in the pro-life movement have stooped to the low level of harrassment and even violence, but I thought it important to mention that most of these gatherings do not practice this level of interaction. Thanks for keeping an open mind for all women involved in this touchy subject :)

  6. Well said – it makes me grit my teeth with tension!

Speak Your Mind