(Sorry this is so late!)
The Catholic anti-abortion group ‘40 Days for Life’ really love Bedford Square. In fact they love it so much they were there for every day of Lent from 8am to 8pm, harassing and intimidating people entering the BPAS clinic located on the north-west corner. Their tactics are typical of the many ‘pro-life’ groups popping up all around the UK. They pray, they sing, they handout hideous anti-choice propaganda (examples here: http://tinyurl.com/40dfl-lies) and they approach those trying to access the myriad of services that BPAS has to offer. You may even have had the misfortune to walk past them, and will have seen them gathered around a large banner that reads ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you – God’ (direct quote from the Lord, apparently) and accompanied by teeny-tiny plastic models of foetuses.
Last Friday 40 Days For Life held a vigil with bonus celebrity guest Bishop Alan Hopes. For one night only, instead of a few bigots with rosaries, there were hundreds of bigots with rosaries and pro-choice activists from across the country came to meet them.
The Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance was created directly in response to 40DFL’s Bedford Square antics and managed to rally a huge amount of support for last night’s demo within just a few weeks. There was pro-choice solidarity aplenty with pro-choice groups such as Abortion Rights, Ed for Choice and the newly-formed Red Rag Campaign amongst the crowd. It was hard to get a sense of just how many people were there, but by 7.30 we clearly outnumbered 40DFL (although this has been vehemently disputed on several ‘pro-life’ blogs…). At one point even Critical Mass arrived to show their support for the pro-choice cause.
The night mainly consisted of 40DFL mumbling dreary hymns and kneeling at random intervals, at which point the pro-choice crowd would shout ‘kneel down if you hate women!’ Our side of the barriers the atmosphere was much livelier – there was singing, chanting, dancing and a samba band. No protest is complete without a samba band. There were also some excellent placards that deserve a mention including ‘Keep the pope away from my pussy’, ‘My abortion didn’t drive me crazy but anti-choicers do’ and a personal favourite:
‘Abortion rights: don’t fuck with them, don’t fuck without them’.
Meanwhile there were several slightly sinister things taking place on the other side of the police-constructed No Man’s Land. The chanting was ritualistic, the motivation misogynistic. Perhaps one of the most worrying aspects of 40DFL’s vigil was that some people had decided to bring their children and encouraged them to pray for us heathens opposite them. At one point, two girls aged about 6 came forward to play with the tiny foetus dolls laid out on the ground. The group Education For Choice led chants of ‘stop lying to your kids’ whilst the 40DFL crowd encouraged more children to gather around the creepy altar-like centrepiece at the front of the vigil.
Last Friday’s pro-choice/anti-choice face-off proves that, once again, bodies have become a battle ground. The reproductive rights many of us thought were safe are constantly coming under attack. Whilst the protest was clearly a strong, pro-choice victory we cannot get complacent – we need to remember that 40DFL are actually just part of a larger trend of anti-abortion ‘American-style’ protests across the country. Anyone in Brighton should be supporting Brighton Pro-Choice in their campaign against the unspeakably abhorrent Abort67. As for those of us in the Bloomsbury area, we’re certain that 40DFL will be back this autumn so follow @BloomsburyPCA and be ready to get involved. Wherever you are in the UK, look out for campaigns near you – the pro-choice majority urgently needs to mobilise against those who are unashamedly waging a war on women.
For those of you on twitter, these people are definitely worth a follow:
And a date for the diary – Brighton Carnival for Choice – 15th April 2012, Worthing
(Thanks to @spiraltastic for the pictures!)