Around 400 pro-choice protesters staged a loud and lively picket of Tory MP Ann Widdecombe’s anti-abortion meeting in London on Wednesday of last week.
She was speaking as part of her “Passion for Life” tour – which focuses on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill currently in parliament.
Amendments to the bill are likely to seek to restrict abortion rights. Widdecombe was forced to go in through the back door to avoid the protests.
The diversity of the demonstrators contrasted with the overwhelmingly old, white and male audience that filed past into the meeting.
Charlotte Bence was one of around 15 protesters who got inside the meeting. “When the speakers said things that were untrue we got up and challenged them,” she said.
“Veteran anti-abortion bigot David Alton said that most people agreed with them on abortion, so we pointed out that 83 percent of people in Britain support abortion rights. We really made our presence felt and disrupted the meeting.”
Protesters came from a wide range of backgrounds. Many brought banners – including Camden Unison union, South East region TUC, the PCS Defra union branch, and Goldsmiths and Soas students’ unions.
Alex travelled from Manchester to join the protest. She told Socialist Worker, “I’m here to defend abortion rights because it’s a basic human right. The law is not perfect now, but – as limited as it is – it was still a step forward.”
Gemma had helped organise the protest. “People presume that it’s easy for women to access abortions,” she said. “But this is propaganda. It’s already very hard to get an abortion and we don’t need it to be made any harder.”
“I can’t believe this is happening now,” said Josephine, a midwife. “Lowering the time limit for abortions would mean that women would either have to go through an unwanted pregnancy, risk an unsafe abortion which could lead to death or injury, or travel abroad to get an abortion.”
“It’s frustrating that we still have to fight,” added Marion Carty from the TUC. “I’ve had friends that had to have backstreet abortions in the past – we can’t let the clock be turned back to that time.”
Protesters were set for the next meetings of Ann Widdecombe’s tour – Liverpool on Tuesday of this week and Coventry on Wednesday of this week.
Lucy Ayrton is a student at Warwick university and is part of organising the protest in Coventry. “Everyone’s really positive about the campaign,” she told Socialist Worker. “You only have to mention Ann Widdecombe and students want to come to the protest.
“Kat Stark, the NUS women’s officer, came to an organising meeting for the protest and our student union women’s officer and Warwick anti-sexism society are helping out.
“Next week we’ll be touring halls of residence and doing stalls every day to build the protest – it’s a very united campaign.”
Students at Coventry university are also building the protest. Tom Wood, president of Coventry university student union, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.
“I think it’s a woman’s right to choose what she wants to do with her own body,” he said. “I’m spreading the word among students about the Ann Widdecombe meeting. It’s important that students get a chance to put the view that we need to defend a woman’s right to choose.”
The Human Embryology and Fertilisation bill is due in the House of Commons later this month, and amendments to the Abortion Act are expected. The government is allowing a free vote on any amendments relating to abortion.
For a list of meetings go to » Dates of Ann Widdecombe's anti-abortion speaking tour
For updates on abortion amendments, news and campaigning materials, go to » www.abortionrights.org.uk