Edinburgh students launch campaign to ban protesters outside abortion clinics

Edinburgh University students have launched a new campaign to ban protesters gathering outside city abortion clinics.
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The campaign ‘Back Off Chalmers’ is calling for buffer zones to be set up to stop pro-life groups targeting women who going for treatment at the Chalmers Sexual Health Centre.

After services start up again after lockdown, campaigners say visitors to the Centre have been targeted by groups who pray outside the clinics, give out leaflets and approach women entering the clinic. Students who have set up the new anti-harassment campaign say the protests intimidates women.

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They have registered a petition with Edinburgh City Council and plan to lobby the Scottish government to introduce 150 metre ‘buffer zones’ that will move protests away from the gates of all hospitals and clinics that provide abortion services in Scotland.

Ella Cheney, founder of Back Off Chalmers campaignElla Cheney, founder of Back Off Chalmers campaign
Ella Cheney, founder of Back Off Chalmers campaign

In recent years group 40 Days for Life have gathered outside the Chalmers with signs and rosaries, visited and supported by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. They claim 'over 100 people' have been involved in the vigils since they began. Others to protest outside the clinic include the Helpers of God's Precious Infants presence.

Back Off Chalmers was founded in October by student, Ella Cheney, who said: “These groups have been seen outside the clinic weekly before lockdown. Since October they said they had suspended operations but they have been seen since then.

“We want clinics throughout Edinburgh that provide abortion services to be free of harassment and accessible to all.

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“This isn’t a freedom to protest issue. Protests don’t target individuals accessing medical services.

Chalmers Sexual Health CentreChalmers Sexual Health Centre
Chalmers Sexual Health Centre

“Anti-choice activity outside clinics is off-putting to women going for essential medical services - a range of services not just abortions. Women should be free to do it in peace without being faced with judgement and criticism before they can get through the door.”

“I have accessed sexual health services and saw anti-choice groups outside praying. It’s intimidating and made me feel uncomfortable. People have a right to their views but they shouldn’t be trying to talk to women about it at the point they are trying to access services. I have heard from other women who were scared to go in because individuals stood in front of the entrance blocking them. They also hand out inaccurate information about abortions and have been known to hand out food, telling women they would support them if they have the baby. It’s so patronising, it’s emotional blackmail.”

She added: “It’s important to remember how important a woman’s right to choose is. I hope through the campaign that this behaviour will be recognised as unacceptable and classed as harassment.”

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The campaign plans to lodge a petition in Glasgow in the next couple of weeks and is recruiting volunteers to set up similar local campaigns across Scotland.

Previously, pro-life campaigners have demonstrated outside a number of clinics and centres across Scotland, sparking widespread concern that they were denying women the right to privacy.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh said: “There have been no recorded incidents of harassment, intimidation or public disorder at pro-life vigils at the Chalmers Clinic, according to both Police Scotland and NHS Lothian. Those taking part are there to pray and offer help. So we dispute any claims to the contrary."

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