Abortion Debates in Public Spaces

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There are signs of an upsurge in public action challenging abortion rights in the United Kingdom. In 2013, anti-abortion organisations staged the first British 'March for Life', building it into an annual event held each spring in Birmingham. The 40 Days for Life campaign - held twice a year, during Lent and Autumn - has reinvigorated the practice of 'bearing witness' outside abortion clinics, whilst Abort67 has attracted much attention for its campus activism, its use of graphic imagery, and its practice of filming outside clinics. In response, BPAS, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service launched the 'Back Off' campaign in November 2014, calling for exclusion or 'buffer' zones outside clinics, banning public collective actions in the immediate vicinity of clinic entrances.

This project seeks to engage with activists and organisations on both sides of the debate. Our aim is to explore the growing debate over the regulation of space and speech concerning abortion in the UK, how actors conceive of and weigh different types of rights, and how they react and respond to each other. We seek to understand how anti-abortion activists seek to change majority public opinion, which remains overwhelmingly favourable to abortion rights: what motivates anti-abortion activists, how they develop their claims (online and off line), how and why they draw distinctions between types of conduct, how religious commitment shapes their choices. Equally, we seek to engage with groups mobilising against anti-abortion actions and in defence of abortion rights. We also seek to explore the effects of actions outside clinics on the women who use them, and the way that this affects the provision of abortion services in Britain. We are particularly interested in how actors on both sides of the debate understand what constitutes harassment, and how the British public debate resembles or diverges from developments elsewhere in the world, particularly in North America.

Project Team:

Graeme Hayes
Pam Lowe
Carol Marley,
Nicci MacLeod
Sarah-Jane Page


Hard Enough Decision Cover
'A Hard Enough Decision to Make': Anti-­Abortion Activism outside Clinics in the Eyes of Clinic Users: This report analyses the comments made by women seeking abortion in bpas clinics who have encountered anti-abortion activists outside the clinic.  The research shows that the presence of anti-abortion activists outside clinics is a significant source of distress for women seeking abortions, and points to the difficulties in balancing the rights of women to have an abortion and to privacy in healthcare decisions with the rights to free speech and free assembly of anti-abortion activists.

Click here to download this report.
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March for Life Participant Survey: This report provides the results of a questionnaire conducted with participants in the third annual March for Life, held in Birmingham on 16 May 2015. The report analyses the socio-demographic data produced by the survey, and discusses the broad profile of March participants.

 Click here to download this report.