The Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance (BPCA) counters vigils held by 40 Days for Life and other anti-abortion groups outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) in Bedford Square, London.
Cathy Nugent spoke to Kerry about BPCA.
How long has BPCA been going? Who is involved?
BPCA was founded earlier this year in response to 40 Days for Life’s Lent campaign. Myself and a few other locals, mostly students, decided that some sort of counter-presence was important, both to show support for the BPAS staff and patients, and to show 40 Days for Life that they aren’t welcome in the area. After co-ordinating with the Clinic, we agreed that any action would take place outside of clinic opening hours to minimise the impact on patients.
What is behind the increasing organisation of anti-choice groups?
It’s hard to know exactly what’s spurring on the sudden increase. Groups such as 40 Days for Life originate from the US, so there’s obviously some sort of trickle-down effect as the situation continues to escalate over there. It may be that these groups see that they have more allies in the current Tory government — such as high-profile anti-choice MPs Nadine Dorries and Andrew Lansley.
How can we effectively challenge them? Direct action? What about legal challenges?
I think the number one way to combat these groups is by raising awareness. The UK is primarily a pro-choice country, but so many people are simply unaware that clinic protests are happening. Abortion Rights have organised a campaign encouraging people to email their MPs to register their outrage about clinic protests (bit.ly/antivig), with mixed results so far (my own MP hasn’t even bothered to respond).
Direct action is a tricky one. With BPCA we’ve taken the decision to remain peaceful and civilised, which is difficult at times but I think it’s important that some of the players in the abortion debate are seen as a bit more moderate. Saying that, I do think there’s room for some of the more radical political groups in the area to be a bit more... feisty.
It seems to me that the only way, realistically, we’ll get groups like 40 Days for Life to just go away is if the tide of public opinion turns strongly against them. Anything else runs the risk of just feeding their martyrdom complexes.
What are the next steps for pro-choice campaigners?
There’s renewed interest among pro-choice groups to get the subject back into the political arena — on our terms. The Action on Abortion demo on 29 September, organised by Abortion Rights, is arguing for full decriminalisation, and there’s lots of talk about whether the two doctors rule should be part of the law at all.
Suggestions for actions are welcome!