Currently Brighton Feminist Collective is undertaking a project, called Brighton 40 Days of Treats. This project was inspired by the original 40 Days of Treats campaign; a campaign set up to counteract the impact of the 40 Days for Life protests which they call 'prayer vigils', outside BPAS and Marie Stopes clinics.
Now, I'm aware there are a lot of '40 days' in that paragraph so let’s break it down a little bit. 40 Days for Life in the UK is an offshoot of the 40 days for Life campaign based in the United States and led by Coalition of Life. The Coalition of Life is committed to ending abortion full stop, irrespective of reproductive rights, individual circumstance or medical needs.
Supporting this 'vigil' is a group called Abort67 a hard line anti-choice campaign group who have been frequently campaigning outside the clinic over the last couple of years. I'm unwilling to link directly to their website due to the graphic videos and images that appear immediately upon opening the site. This is just a taster of Abort67's tactics which also sadly include standing outside the clinic with large images of late stage abortions. The group is calling for the total reversal of the 1967 law pertaining to access to abortion and they see abortion as an affront to God, irrespective of circumstance.
There are some greatly troubling aspects here. Firstly, the use of graphic images for shock value with utter ignorance of the triggering nature of these images and the impact that they can have beyond the nature of their campaign. Within the local community there is a strong feeling against the group given that they place themselves on a busy junction opposite a college and a nursery. The images have already led to arrests of group members. Secondly the methods used to spread the anti-choice message. Material the group gives out is greatly misleading on topics such as mental health, oral contraception and cancer by trying to link them to abortion. Finally the methods used to stop women entering the clinic, such as giving out stickers with pictures aborted foetuses. This again shows alarming disrespect and lack of sensitivity.
Given the images, tactics and hard-line stance of the group on abortion, the presence of this group is deeply troubling and potentially upsetting. This is true for both clinic users, some of whom are referred to the clinic due to complex medical circumstances and all of whom deserve compassion and respect. This is also true for clinic’s staff, who tire of the judgement and the feelings of harassment due to the presence of the anti-choice campaigners. This brings us to the 40 Days of Treats.
Pro-choice campaigners recognise that counter protest in the face of hard-line dogmatic religious beliefs can be problematic and can draw unnecessary attention to what is, in reality, a minority supported campaign in the UK. It can also bring about a situation where clients and staff at the clinics are faced with even more disruption and difficulty and thus the idea behind 40 Days of Treats!
40 Days of Treats aims to counteract the negativity of the anti-choice protests with little acts of love, kindness and support to people who undertake a difficult and demanding job and women and families who are in need of some compassion and understanding. Every day someone takes a treat to the clinic – the treat can be anything, cakes, flowers or thank-you cards to demonstrate our gratitude to the staff for maintaining freedom and choice for women.
Support for the 40 Days of Treats project has been overwhelming both locally and nationally. We've lost count of the number of supportive messages, links, tweets and mentions that we've had since starting. The campaign of course has its detractors and people who would wilfully misunderstand our purpose. Telegraph blogger Tim Stanley implied on twitter that our project was essentially giving out lollipops for abortions and Catholic blogger Caroline Farrow has similarly tried to imply that we're giving cake as a reward:
As for the women themselves, could anything be more patronising and indeed misogynistic in nature. “I’m sorry you’ve had an abortion dear. Never mind, have a piece of the cake I baked”. It would be funny, if it weren’t so grotesque.
I think it's somewhat misogynistic myself to presume to dictate to another woman what choices she can make regarding her own life and body. What these women need is love and support. Let’s state it here so Tim, Caroline and others are really clear on our message: 40 Days of treats isn't a 'reward', it isn't a patronising pat on the head. It is intended to counter the wilful misunderstanding and dispassionate actions of the anti-choice campaigners, neatly demonstrated by these kinds of comments. It is also to support people who do an outstanding job maintaining choice for women through advice, understanding and recognition of the complexity of circumstances of the people who need to use the clinic.
If you wish to support the campaign, our treats blog can be found here. Treats are welcome, negativity is not.
This post originally appeared on the Brighton Feminist Collective website and is re-posted with kind permission.