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"If 40 Days for Life had their way, I'd be dead"

When anti-abortion protesters 40 Days for Life set up in Sheffield, they sparked the creation of a 1000-strong group determined to protect choice. 

Hands off my uterus
Suiren2022

Every year, 28 September marks International Safe Abortion Day (ISAD), a day designed in commemoration of the essential right to free, safe, and easily accessible abortions. This year signified the first ISAD to take place since the United States’ Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade and, in doing so, overruled the right to safe, legal abortions in the US.

Roe v Wade had been in place since 1973 - almost 50 years - to protect the health and autonomy of those with uteruses living in the US. The overturning of this crucial and, in many cases, life-saving case resulted in a crushing sense of devastation amongst all those affected, not only in the US but around the world.

However, this year, the date also heralded the beginning of the 40 Days for Life protest in Sheffield. These anti-abortion, “pro-life” protests originated in America, but have since been established in the UK.

Just outside the doors of Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, protesters have been seen to gather, flaunting signs painted with phrases such as “PRAY TO END ABORTION”. Nevertheless, in spite of their bold signs and strong sentiments, the turnout has been limited; those who did attend only lingered for a couple of hours, and some days have had no protesters at all.

HONK if you support abortion rights sign

HONK if you support abortion rights sign

Les

What we have seen, on the other hand, is a wonderful retaliation in the form of the SPRC - a group by the name of ‘Sheffield Protecting the Right to Choose’. The goal of this group, set up as a response to the 40 Days for Life protests, is to keep an eye out for any anti-abortion protesters, collating evidence that will enable the establishment of ‘buffer zones’ surrounding the UK’s hospitals and sexual health clinics. These ‘buffer zones’, alternatively known as Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), are put in place to ensure that anyone attending an appointment at a hospital or clinic (whether for an abortion or otherwise) will be protected from any tactics the anti-abortion protesters may employ to prevent the use of the UK’s current abortion services.

Since the emergence of SPRC around two weeks ago, the group has amassed nearly 1,000 members - all of whom are willing to stand up and shout for the right to safe, shame-free abortions in the UK. Now, more than ever, we need to protect this fundamental human right, especially as our newly appointed health secretary, Thérese Coffey, has repeatedly spoken against accessible abortions in the UK, using her Catholic faith as an excuse for this opposition to basic and necessary healthcare.

This, along with the recent development in the United States, has been the cause of profound concern and distress amongst the pro-choice (those in favour of safe, legal abortions) protesters in the UK.

Some members of the SPRC have agreed to disclose why standing up for abortion rights is so important to them. Roisin is particularly concerned about the possibility of the United States’ reduction in abortion rights making its way across the Atlantic.

"People seeking abortions in the USA have been facing hostility and even violence for decades. And if similar ideas were to gain traction in the UK, who knows if [people] here could possibly face the same. At the end of the day this is basic healthcare and it's legal, nobody should have to fear accessing basic healthcare."

These fears are echoed by another member of the group, who states, "There are issues currently with America even relating to birth control or specific medications post-Roe v Wade. It's a slippery slope when it comes to making abortion illegal, and can start to affect everything when it comes to not only reproductive health but contraception and medications used which have dual purposes. Having a mother who had an ectopic [pregnancy], and having a health condition which relies on birth control to manage, it’s terrifying what’s happening over there and how fast it has picked up traction here.”

"It's incredibly important to me that my body - our bodies - aren't policed by others," says Nina, a Hallam student in Allied Health. "I would love huge changes in society which mean that potentially fewer abortions are needed: better sex education, more education about consent, fairer pay for all (and a better benefits system), better rights and money for people with disabilities - but that isn't the world we're in."

Members of the pro-choice organisation have also discussed the horrifying effect that criminalising abortions will have on vulnerable members on the society, as explained by a member who wishes to remain anonymous. "For me, this stems down to prioritising a foetus over a living human. No one makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy lightly and who are we to judge an individual for that decision? Whether that decision is made on medical grounds or due to circumstances in that person’s life doesn't matter; they deserve the right to choose what happens to their body.

"The thing is that whether abortion is legal or not, it will still go ahead. Any change will simply push it underground, where the most vulnerable members of society will then be at an increased risk of botched medical procedures. I also worry that it opens the door to controlling other aspects of healthcare, including birth control."

It goes without saying that some of the reasons why pro-choice supporters hold these beliefs are extremely personal.

“I had an ectopic pregnancy before I had my kids," says one SPRC member. "It wasn't picked up until it had already burst. If 40 Days for Life had their way, I'd be dead. Even with the NHS, who moved incredibly fast when they picked it up, I'm lucky to be here. If there had been any faffing with legal consents, or moving to a different hospital (or heaven forbid, state) I wouldn't have made it.

"I hate talking about it, but am realising that unless we talk about these things and make it real - personal - we risk losing our rights, our autonomy, and perhaps our lives."

With over four weeks until the anti-abortion protests are due to end, the pro-choice community in Sheffield show no signs of weakening our opposition. We will continue to fight to protect abortion rights in the UK as, after all, abortions are healthcare – and healthcare is a human right.

Learn more

If you would like to show your support for Sheffield’s pro-choice movement, you can check out Sheffield Protecting the Right to Choose on Facebook.

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