Campaign for abortion clinic ‘buffer zones’ hits out at Facebook for blocking petition

A campaign for buffer zones outside abortion clinics has hit out at Facebook, after the social media giant blocked their petition stating it was ‘reported as abusive content.’

The Chalmers Sexual health clinic has been targeted by pro-life images
The Chalmers Sexual health clinic has been targeted by pro-life images

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Back Off Scotland, which was started by Edinburgh university students, said it was disappointed the social media platform had suspended supporters accounts when they shared their national petition – branding the move ‘heavy-handed.’

The group has expanded the campaign for buffer zones outside clinics across Scotland, after setting up in Edinburgh in response to harassment of women seeking abortion healthcare at the Chalmers Street clinic.

Previously patients at the clinic reported protesters approaching them directly and distributing medically inaccurate leaflets. Women and girls not accessing abortion services were targeted too, according to the group.

Lucy Grieve from Back Off Scotland said: “This censorship is detrimental because platforms like Facebook have the power to help sex education but when content with “abortion” is treated as explicit it contributes to societal shame and stigma. It is bizarre, disappointing and frankly heavy-handed of them to block people sharing our petition. Women need to be able to access healthcare information outside doctors and other formal settings.

"Our campaign stands to remove barriers to healthcare access. Why are Facebook now enforcing additional barriers by deeming our content abusive and restricting accounts trying to share our petition?” We are founded on promoting rights, and freedom of speech and access to information is crucial.”

The council has agreed to throw its weight behind the campaign to introduce 150-metre 'no protest zones' outside the entrance to the Chalmers Street Sexual Health Centre.

But Back Off Scotland said the clinic continues to be targeted by pro-life groups. In March, images of a foetus with slogans like 'love begins in the womb' 'please let me be born' and 'who cares' were projected onto the walls of the city clinic.

National charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service spokesperson said the censorship of the petition was disappointing but unsurprising:

A spokesperson said: “BPAS launched the Back Off campaign in 2014 to protect our clients and staff from anti-choice harassment and intimidation outside of clinics, and we support the aims of the Back Off Scotland campaign.

“We have witnessed first-hand how current laws are incomplete, ineffective, allowing anti-abortion extremists to impinge on women’s access to reproductive healthcare. Since 2019, 43 different sites across the UK have been targeted by an active and mobilised anti-choice movement. Clinic harassment has continued during the pandemic despite lockdowns, restrictions on gatherings, and the introduction of telemedicine.

"Campaigning for buffer zones around clinics is not "abusive" - it is the anti-choice clinic harassment which is abusive. While censorship is disappointing, it’s also not surprising in the fight for women’s reproductive rights. Growing awareness and public support for buffer zones is a crucial step towards achieving legislative change, and we hope that Facebook will rectify this issue - and apologise to Back Off Scotland - as a matter of urgency. It is important that the pro-choice majority are able to make their voices heard.”

Anti-choice protests in Scotland date back to 1999, with hospitals and clinics across the country being targeted. Protestors often approach patients directly and have distributed medically inaccurate leaflets.

Facebook was contacted for comment.

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