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UK anti-abortion protesters condemned for comparing terminations to Holocaust

The Independent logo The Independent 07/10/2020 Maya Oppenheim
a group of people standing in front of a crowd holding a sign © Provided by The Independent

Anti-abortion campaigners have been condemned by a leading holocaust memorial charity for drawing moral equivalence between abortions and the Holocaust.

40 Days for Life, an American-based anti-abortion group, started demonstrations outside a dozen abortion clinics across England in September which will continue for 40 days.

Campaigners have now provoked fury for holding a 40-day prayer vigil against the “modern day Holocaust” outside an abortion clinic in York.

“The life of the child in the womb, which in God’s designs, should be the safest place imaginable, has now become the place most dangerous for survival,” organisers said. “We are living in a modern day Holocaust.”

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, a charity established and funded by the government that supports Holocaust Memorial Day which falls on 27 January each year, condemned the actions of the group.

A spokesperson told The Independent: “It is unacceptable to draw comparisons between the Holocaust and abortion practice. The Holocaust was a unique, identity-based, extermination of a people, during which a state-sponsored slaughter of six million Jews took place before and during the Second World War.

“Although Jews were the main target of the Nazi regime’s, we know that other groups were also persecuted and murdered during the Holocaust, including Roma and Sinti people, black people, gay people, and mentally and physically disabled people. These horrors of the past stand today as a reminder of what we must learn from genocide for a better future.”

Some lawmakers in the US routinely compare abortions to the Holocaust and other modern genocides - prompting outrage from Jewish organisations and abortion rights groups.

Anti-abortion campaigners say they are planning on praying outside the clinic run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the UK’s largest abortion provider, in York from 8am to 8pm every day until 1 November.

Katherine O’Brien, of the British the Pregnancy Advisory Service, said it was “absolutely appalling” a group which describes “abortion care as a modern ‘Holocaust’ are targeting patients and healthcare workers in this way.”

She told The Independent: “It is deeply offensive, and these groups should be ashamed of themselves. Women understandably feel intimidated by groups of strangers, often middle-aged men, standing in front of a clinic where they are trying to access confidential, legal medical care. At a time when we are all being told to socially distance form loved ones, their activity is even more galling.

“In February, telemedical abortion care was introduced to enable women having an early medical abortion to avoid having to travel to the clinic during the pandemic. However, women who are still attending clinics are disproportionately likely to be vulnerable, including younger women where we may have safeguarding concerns, necessitating an in-person consultation, women at later gestations including those who may be ending a much-wanted pregnancy due to a diagnosis of fetal anomaly, and clients attending for miscarriage management.

“This year, our clinic staff have already had to contact police because of the actions of the protestors. If this was any other area of healthcare, the government would have already taken swift action to protect the wellbeing of staff and the women they care for.”

Ms O’Brien raised concerns 40 Days for Life protests had spread to new clinics this year - adding this should not be allowed to continue and calling for the government to take action.

It comes after frontline service providers recently told The Independent 40 Days for Life protesters have deterred women seeking abortions from going into clinics as well as entering healthcare services to hunt down staff.

Abortion providers warn the protesters harass women seeking terminations and will put the health of thousands of women at risk as they breach Covid-19 regulations.

Abi Smith, a clinical nurse manager at an abortion clinic in Bournemouth run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: “When we are talking women who are pregnant through their choices, we first spend some time on how they have been made to feel by the protesters outside. Some women are hurt. Some women are angry. Some women are ashamed. A massive part of our responsibility is to enable the most vulnerable to access the healthcare they are legally entitled to. Women are annoyed and frustrated it is something they have to go through just to access the service.”

She said protesters distribute leaflets about fictitious abortion reversals which are not founded on any research and do not work - as well as pushing false information about side effects of abortions which again have no scientific basis.

While a healthcare professional, who works at an abortion clinic in Birmingham run by BPAS, said: “A woman called to cancel her appointment today in Birmingham due to protests. The woman advised there were lots of protestors and she did not want to come inside the clinic.”

A woman seeking an abortion in Merseyside, who recently encountered the demonstrators at a clinic, said: “They were saying prayers, engaging, making me feel guilty, uncomfortable, intimidated – like a sinner because they asked my religion. They made me question my decision, but I came back anyway.”

More than 100,000 women went to clinics anti-abortion demonstrations targeted last year. The government rejected calls for the introduction of “buffer zones” barring anti-abortion protests outside clinics across the UK in October 2018.

A buffer zone around an abortion clinic in Manchester which blocks demonstrators from standing outside was approved earlier in the week. The public space protection order will be in place for three years and comes into force on Friday.

Shawn Carney, the president and CEO of 40 Days for Life, said the group's protests were peaceful and stood by the use of the word "holocaust" by its followers, whom he said included "some men and women of Jewish descent".

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