Why is Scottish Government Spending £10,000 to ‘Support Dialogue’ Between Abortion Protestors and Patients?
Is mediation really the answer when it comes to groups holding extremist views and women accessing safe, legal healthcare?
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The Scottish Government has awarded a £10,000 contract to an organisation offering mediation services to “support dialogue” between anti-abortion protestors and women using abortion services.
But the plan is controversial, with the grassroots organisation Back Off Scotland – which campaigns to introduce buffer zones around clinics to protect women from harassment – tweeting “you’ve got to be joking”.
The Scottish Government has been consulting on whether to introduce buffer zones, with a ministerial-led working group considering short, medium and long-term actions that “may help to address the issue of protests/vigils that take place outside of abortion clinics or other facilities providing healthcare”.
Bills to introduce buffer zones in England and Wales have been routinely defeated in Parliament, with those opposing the zones claiming they are an affront to free speech.
However, all but one of the Conservative MPs who voted against a recent Ten-Minute Bill to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics voted in favour of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which brought in draconian anti-protest powers.
Anti-abortion organisations that have succeeded in defeating buffer zones in the US are increasingly focused on this issue in the UK.
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While there are people who hold anti-abortion beliefs based on their own faith or religious practice, some of those who take part in vigils and pickets outside abortion providers often hold extremist and often far-right views.
This is particularly pertinent in Scotland, where the far-right activist and British First founder Jim Dowson hails from.
Labelled as “Britain’s most influential far-right activist”, Dowson first came to prominence for his anti-abortion activism. He ran groups such as Precious Life Scotland and the UK Life League, which claims it pioneered the US-style tactics of displaying graphic abortion imagery outside clinics.
The UK Life League’s supporter magazine places abortion in the context of the far-right conspiracy theory the ‘Great Replacement’, which posits that white people are being replaced by immigration from the Global South and that this ‘white genocide’ is aided by feminists repressing the birth rate through abortion.
Articles discuss how Muslim people “speak of conquering Europe through the wombs of our women” and praise far-right authoritarian leaders in eastern Europe who, the editors claim, cared about their “native people”. In one article that echoed a 1922 Mussolini speech, the editors wrote that in Britain “the empty cradles, playgrounds, school chairs where our own children should be are occupied by aliens”.
Dowson now hosts an online show for the Knights Templar International, a website full of articles about numerous conspiracy theories, including the Great Replacement, QAnon-style stories about Satanism, and anti-vaxxer content. Men can pay $890 for a “full knight and regalia package” which includes a cape. One video shared by the group contrasts a Blackpool beach scene in the 1970s and in 2019, stating that the increase of black and Asian people enjoying a stroll along the beach is “the result of… literally millions of abortions”.
Dowson is not alone in being anti-abortion activist that holds extremist views.
The former director of the anti-abortion group CBR UK, Wilfred Wong, has argued that terminations are ‘satanic ritual sacrifices’, in a video with its current CEO. CBR UK holds public “education stands” featuring graphic imagery. During a training academy which this reporter attended, Wong argued that prayer vigils outside clinics were necessary as they disrupted Satan’s power and prevented an abortion from working.
There are questions to be asked about the decision to provide mediation, therefore, between those who hold extremist views about women’s bodies, and women who are exercising their human right to reproductive healthcare.
The contract for mediation services comes at a time when women in the country are struggling to access abortion care.
Since 2019, 170 women and girls have had to cross the border to England in order to access an abortion, according to a report in The Scotsman.
While the majority of women who need an abortion will have a medical termination during the first trimester, those who need a surgical abortion must go to England, as there is no health board in Scotland that provides abortion care up to the longstanding legal limit of 24 weeks to the women in its area.
Speaking in May, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) Claire Murphy said that “all women who are legally entitled to an abortion should be able to access care as swiftly and as close to home as possible”.
“Unfortunately, at BPAS we regularly treat women from Scotland at clinics in England who were unable to access abortion care locally,” she added. “Since the pandemic began, we are seeing around one woman from Scotland every week who has had to travel to England.”
Byline Times attempted to reach Scotland’s Department for Health and Social Care several times for comment, but no one was available to respond.