Monday, 7 May 2012

SPUC-OFF: Pro-Choice Counter-Protest

The weekend before last saw anti-choice groups from across the country performing "roadside vigils" encouraging motorists to return us to the dark days of illegal abortion. Quite why they decided to target this demographic is uncertain - presumably they had watched Clarkson's uncontested chauvenist ramblings on Top Gear and hoped they might garner the support of opinionated 4x4 drivers belching their way through the city centre.

The vigil in Bristol was attended by Bristol Students for Life and promoted by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), both of whom I have written about before. With only a few days notice, several Bristol groups rallied for a counter-protest, outnumbering the anti-choicers 4-to-1 despite the short amount of time in which to organise.  An interesting addition was the Bristol Anarchists who had promised the day before the protest to "be occupying the space and engaging [the anti-choicers] directly."

Bristol Feminist Network, University of Bristol Feminist Society, University of Bristol Atheist, Agnostic and Secular  Society, Bristol Secular Society and many others joined forces to counter-protest
The day itself was a damp but we were roused by many chants including "get your roasaries off my ovaries" and "pro-life, that's a lie, you don't care if women die!"

The anarchists carried out their promise to "occupy the space" by placing their pro-choice placards in front of the anti-choice placards.  I don't know if I entirely approved of that action because it was denying the anti-choicers their right to speech and would feed their victim-complex. Nonetheless, it lead to an amusing cat-and-mouse game where the anti-choicers and anarchists would move about trying to block each others' signs. Even the police, not well known for tolerating anarchists, decided not to intervene when the anti-choicers requested their assistance.

Members of the University of Bristol Atheist, Agnostic and Secular Society

Gav from the Bristol Secular Society
At the end of the two-hour protest and counter-protest both groups disbanded peacably. However, the apparent increase in anti-choice activity in recent times is worrying - not because they are winning the argument but because their activities are becoming ever more desperate as the prospect of banning abortion slips ever further from becoming a political possibility.  For example, the "prayer vigils" intimidating pregnant people attending the BPAS clinic in Bedford Square are utterly immoral and borderline illegal. 

There is a danger that the situation in the UK could degrade to the tragic situation in the US where vigils staking-out abortion clinics and attacks on abortion doctors are more common, putting vulnerable people at risk. We must be careful not to allow anti-choice groups to position the pro-choice position as pro-abortion (which is isn't) and to make sure our response to them continues to be clear, measured and rational.


  1. Do you mean Bristol Women's Network or Bristol Feminist Network? I know BFN were there (Sian, Marina, etc) and I've never heard of a Bristol Women's Network (although if they exist and were there then cool).

  2. Whoops, I did mean Bristol Feminist Network. Fixed!