A pro-choice organisation launched in Ealing is continuing its nationwide campaign against harassment outside abortion clinics.

Sister Supporter made history in 2018 when Ealing Council unanimously voted in favour of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) outside the Marie Stopes Clinic, resulting in the introduction of the UK’s first legal ‘buffer zone’.

This followed activists gathering 3,500 signatures and presenting the petition to the council in a bid to stop the daily anti-abortion vigils taking place outside the centre.

The organisation has since secured PSPO victories in Richmond and Manchester and launched their national campaign against abortion clinic harassment, recently spurred on by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who commented in Parliament on the need to review the country’s legislation on 'buffer zones'.

Sister Supporter founder Anna Veglio-White, 28, said: “Whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life, the simple fact is that you cannot harass women as they are accessing legally available healthcare.

“I think the people who stand outside the clinic gates have no idea what they’re doing to people – you can’t possibly know someone’s personal situation so you have no idea how your words and actions will impact them.

Ealing Times: VOLUNTEERS: Members of Sister Supporter VOLUNTEERS: Members of Sister Supporter

“Priti Patel’s comments are a great step, because although these buffer zones are a great remedy for now, they have to be reviewed every three years so can’t be a long-term fix.

“This is a national issue and it really needs a national solution.”

Sister Supporter has recently had to deal with the impacts of the 40 Days For Life movement, which, started in the US, is the world's largest grassroots movement to end abortion.

During a set period of 40 days, there is an increased presence of pro-life protesters outside abortion clinics.

Veglio-White, who launched Sister Supporter in 2015, said she witnessed people going into the clinics being called murderers and saw plastic foetus skulls and an array of graphic images scattered on the ground.

She explained: “Most people don’t realise that there are anti-choice protests happening all over the country.

“Unless you’ve been to an abortion clinic, it seems like something that only happens in Bible Belt America.

“I think most people in the UK would be really shocked that there is still the need for an organisation like ours – but unfortunately, there is.”

Even prior to Priti Patel’s comments, the issue has already been recognised at a national level by the UK Government.

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd ordered an in-depth assessment of protests outside abortion clinics in 2017, following a letter signed by 113 MPs from parties across the House of Commons which backed demands for national buffer zones.

Ealing Times: PRO-CHOICE: Sister Supporter signsPRO-CHOICE: Sister Supporter signs

Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton Rupa Huq, who co-ordinated the letter, said she was spurred on by Sister Supporter’s pioneering campaign in her constituency.

She said: “For three decades I have been fuming that these so-called pro-life protesters have been able to upset women seeking medical treatment with their wildly medically inaccurate foetus representations designed to cause alarm, shock, and distress.

“I hope that very soon we will see no one outside the gates of these clinics, so these women can have the anonymity they need.”

The findings of the government assessment showed that more than 40 UK clinics and over 100,000 women were being affected by this type of harassment each year.

Despite this, in 2018, Amber Rudd’s successor Sajid Javid rejected the calls for exclusion zones around abortion centres in the UK, remarking that instances of harassment were too infrequent to justify a blanket ban.

Veglio-White said the way to move forward with the campaign is by holding MPs who backed the buffer zones accountable and applying the pressure necessary to ensure the legislation makes its way through the Government.

In the interim, the organisation will continue to campaign for buffer zones on a council-by-council basis, which still makes a significant difference to those who have been affected by harassment.

Veglio-White said: “It’s very touching that a lot of people feel safe to share their experiences and personal stories with us.

“We don’t feel we need or deserve any thanks, but when people do reach out, it just makes it even more clear how profoundly impacted these women’s lives have been by the harassment they experienced.

“Some people were reaching out to us twenty years after having their abortion, and what stood out to them wasn’t the procedure, but how people treated them at the gate.

“It’s having that invasion of privacy at such a personal time.”

The Good Counsel Network is one of the groups who used to hold anti-abortion vigils outside the Marie Stopes Clinic in Ealing before the PSPO was introduced.

In a previous interview with the Ealing Times, they said: “We do not judge, condemn or harass anybody.

“If a woman does not want to talk to us, they just ignore us and enter the clinic.

“Some women see our presence as a sign from God not to abort their babies.”

The pro-life organisation lost their case against Ealing Council’s PSPO in High Court and their application to appeal against this decision was denied by the Supreme Court in March 2020.

For more information about Sister Supporter, you can visit their website.

You can also call their hotline on 07306 358427 if you wish to report any anti-abortion harassment outside a clinic.