Edinburgh woman left 'shaking with fear' over pro-life protesters outside Chalmers sexual health clinic

An Edinburgh woman said she was left “shaking with fear” due to anti-abortion protesters outside a sexual health clinic.

Julia, from Edinburgh, was trying to park her car outside Chalmers to attend a routine appointment on Tuesday around noon when she spotted a group holding banners.

The 43-year-old, who uses a mobility aid to walk, said she felt intimidated and was “shaking with fear” so ended up driving away to park on another street nearby to avoid parking right beside them.

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When she had to walk past the protesters – who are there with pro-life group 40 days for life – Julia said she became distressed and had an asthma attack. She called police for help but was told Officers couldn’t attend.

40 Days For Life hold a Prayer Vigil in Scotland, October 2022. Photo John Devlin.

Julia said: “When I pulled up and saw the people holding banners I realised who they were straight away and my blood ran cold. I found it very intimidating.

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"I wasn’t going in for an abortion. It was a routine appointment. I was shaking with fear and anger, it really threw me. They were staring at me and praying. When I tried to pass them they were jeering at me.”

She said: “I got into a flap and dropped some stuff. Someone stopped to help me pick it up but I was scared to accept their help, in case it was one of the group.

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Julia submitted a written complaint at Chalmers

"I was so shaken up I had an asthma attack. Then I was late for my appointment so didn’t get what I needed from it. I cried and talked to the staff about it, who were really supportive.

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"I feel sorry for them having to go in every day and put up with that sort of intimidation outside.”

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After her appointment Julia didn't want to go back to her car alone. She was only able to leave when another woman offered to walk Julia to her car where she called her husband for support.

She added: “I waited half an hour in the entrance on my mobility scooter. I understand people have a right to protest. But I also have a right to feel safe.

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"In the past I have been a victim of sexual trauma and back then, if I had to go for help I would have been too scared to even go into the building with protesters outside. It’s also deeply worrying that they held up banners and increased their presence when young people came out on their lunch break from the nearby school just a few doors down.”

Julia submitted a written complaint about the protesters.

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Back Off Scotland campaign group has urged the public to write to their local MSP ahead of a vote on a buffer zones bill – which would see 150 metre protest-free zones around clinics providing abortions to protect women from harassment.

Police Scotland confirmed they had received a call but said they were not required to attend.

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A spokesperson for NHS Lothian said: “We are disappointed that the anti-abortion demonstration is taking place and recognise that this could have the effect of intimidating our staff and people that need support from our services.

"We encourage any patient who may feel anxious or intimidated by the demonstration to speak to our teams, or if required to contact the police directly."