Brighton Feminist Collective are currently 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. 40 Days for Life in the UK is a campaign under the 40 Days umbrella that brings together a number of anti-choice churches, groups and individuals from various denominations. How very ecumenical! Brighton now has its very own 40 Days for Life campaign group and part of this campaign includes a 'vigil' outside the city's BPAS clinic for the duration of Lent. Protesters also offer leaflets and anti-choice material.
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. 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, trying to link them to abortion. Finally, the methods used to stop women entering the clinic, such as giving out stickers with pictures of aborted foetuses. This shows an alarming disrespect and lack of sensitivity.
Given the images, tactics and hardline stance of the group on abortion, their presence is deeply troubling and potentially upsetting. This is true both for clinic users, some of whom are referred to the clinic due to complex medical circumstances and all of whom deserve compassion and respect, and for clinic 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 hardline 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 of clinics are faced with even more disruption and difficulty - and thus the 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 for people who undertake a difficult and demanding job, and for women and families who are in need of compassion and understanding. Every day someone takes a treat to the clinic - thank-you cards, cakes, flowers etc to thank the staff for maintaining freedom of choice for women.
The 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, mentions etc which 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 and to sit in judgement of those women. What they 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 to counter the wilful misunderstanding and unfeeling actions of the anti-choice campaigners, neatly demonstrated by these kind of comments. It is also to support people who do an outstanding job maintaining choice for women through advice, understanding and a 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.