'Patronising and traumatising': A young woman's experience of pro-life activists

'They made my experience so much more difficult': Scotland Correspondent Louise Scott reports on the pro-life protesters intimidating women as they access abortion clinics

University student Alice Murray faced a difficult decision when she discovered she was pregnant aged 19.

After thinking about all of her options, she decided to go ahead with a medical abortion in Edinburgh.

Alice explained: "For me it felt quite surreal because I think it’s something you always talk about. I’m definitely someone who wants kids and to have children in the future.

"When I found out I was pregnant I did think through the options but also in the back of my head I knew that that wasn’t right for me.

"I was at university at the time, I also had only just entered a relationship with my then boyfriend at the time. So it really was very obvious and I had no regrets afterwards.”

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But upon attending the clinic for her appointment, she was faced with pro-life campaigners. Around seven activists were nearby the walkway holding placards, which made Alice upset and added to her trauma.

She said: “Getting an abortion for me was quite a straightforward decision. I felt pretty certain that that was right for me as I was really young at the time and I knew that I wasn’t in any position to have a baby.

"So then to go to a clinic and have protestors outside assuming that I hadn’t thought through my decision or that it was the wrong decision for me, was at first very patronising then just really upsetting.

"I definitely thought about it a lot afterwards and it made the experience very traumatising."

Pro-life campaign groups say their purpose is not to intimidate women attending, but instead offer advice and support to them.

Anti-abortion advocates have been criticised as intimidating.

But Alice says support and help is the role of the healthcare professionals, and she believes they do that very well. Alice was also offered counselling after her appointment.

Alice: "I feel very grateful that I was so certain on my decision, that I didn’t have that doubt and I know for many people who have an abortion and face these protestors they maybe will doubt it.

"What they did do, was make my choice and experience so much more difficult. They didn’t provide me with information or support, they just provided stress and intimidation."

Protests are becoming more common in Scotland, with pro-life campaigners positioning themselves outside of hospital and healthcare settings.

Pro-choice groups are calling for buffer zones to be introduced so that any protester would have to be a minimum of 150 metres from the entrance of such clinics.

However, pro-life groups believe that would infringe on their rights.

Grace Browne is from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

She says: “I think buffer zone would be really detrimental in Scotland.

"I think that not only would it infringe on a pro-life campaigner’s right to gather peacefully, and offer information and support to vulnerable women, but it would also infringe a women’s right to access that information and that support if she would like it.”

Women can be attending these clinics for a multitude of reasons - personal choice, medical issue or having experience a traumatic incident.

These protests are therefore reportedly causing many women to feel intimidated and upset by their presence.

Grace Browne defends the vigils.

But Grace defends the gatherings: “The purpose of pro-life vigils can often be misrepresented. Pro-life vigils are not there to protest abortion, those who attend are seeking to offer support and help to women.

"Abortion coercion in Scotland is sadly a very real issue. A lot of women feel coerced and pressured into decisions.

"So these vigils are often the last lifeline, last opportunity for those women who are looking for different forms of information and different choices.”

In England, individual councils have the authority to introduce buffer zones. The Northern Ireland assembly passed a law for them in March this year.

But the supreme court is now considering if the bill is proportionate with the right to protest.

This week the First Minister of Scotland said the outcome of this case could have relevance for what happens in there.

But she backed their introduction and committed to the parliament moving forward with legislation.

Greens MSP Gillian Mackay is currently trying to pass a members bill through the Scottish Parliament.

Campaign group Back Off Scotland have long been calling for Buffer Zones to be introduced.

Co-founder and director Lucy Grieve said: “I think we thought the Scottish government would very much be backing all the movements to introduce buffer zones when we first started in October 2020, that’s almost two years ago.

"The government seemed to be very happy with the idea of introducing buffer zones but now we’re in a stale mate. And the protestors have become emboldened by the government’s lack of action.”

During First Minister’s Questions Nicola Sturgeon offered to chair an emergency summit on abortion care after demands from opposition parties and campaigners.