'If we can do it, you can do it': US anti-abortion groups step up their activity in the UK (2023)

Anti-abortion groups are stepping up efforts to spread American-style abortion policy in Britain, increasing spending with the ambition to shake up political life beyond America's borders.

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Fresh from their historic victory in ending the US constitutional right to abortion, these groups are importing familiar tactics, including public protests and demonstrations, anti-abortion counseling centers or so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" and cultivating close ties with the clergy. leaders

These efforts are meeting significant opposition in Britain, where access to abortion is widely supported and generally available for up to 24 weeks and parliament recently passed legislation targeting harassment outside of clinics. But reproductive rights groups are warily watching the movement's expansion in the United States.

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“The fact that anti-abortion and Christian rights groups in the US are establishing footholds in the UK means that the issue of abortion, and related sexual and reproductive rights, will be increasingly called into question in public debate. and at the political level, even when there is broad social acceptance. to the UK model of abortion,” says Neil Datta, executive director of the European Parliamentary Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

"We can expect the successes they've had in the US in these areas to be adapted to the UK context in the coming years."

'If we can do it, you can do it'

“Rethinking Abortion Day”, aseminarwhich took place in February at St Mary's College Oscott in Birmingham, England, illustrated the cross-border reach of some of the most prominent US-based activist groups.

The event aimed to motivate dozens of participants to engage in anti-abortion activism. Quick and interactive presentations prompted them to participate in clinical demonstrations. Activists distributed flyers with anti-abortion talking points and rebuttals to pro-abortion positions, and during brainstorming sessions, audience members rehearsed these arguments. In addition to the Catholic entities co-hosting the event – ​​St Mary’s College Oscott is Catholicseminar– the four groups primarily involved in the presentations were all UK affiliates of US-based organisations, with some presenters having deeptiesto other major groups in the Christian nationalist movement in the United States.

Long a feature of US abortion policy, anti-abortion protests at UK clinics and hospitals haveemergedin recent years, and the presenters of the Birmingham event can claim much of the credit. they includedben thatcher, director of March for Life UK, a US-based arm of the March for Life, which draws tens of thousands of participants to Washington DC each year. Another speaker, Dave Brennan, is thedirectorofbrefos, a project of the US-based Center for Bio Ethical Reform (CBR) that aims to help “churches respond to abortion.”

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'If we can do it, you can do it': US anti-abortion groups step up their activity in the UK (1)

“We must recognize that we are in a spiritual war for our souls…and HE [Satan] is determined,” Brennan, who devotes much of her effort to clergy outreach, advised conference attendees.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, the first presenter of the day, helpsleadthe US-based UK chapter of 40 Days for Life, a Texas-based group that specializes in training protesters and organizing demonstrations at anti-abortion clinics. The group also runs auniversidad”, an online program where, for $497, users can access training videos on how to recruit other protesters and conduct “curbside counseling”, obtain anti-abortion posters and materials, and receive training from 40 Days staff for Life. . the group nowclaimsoperate more than 1,000 branches in 65 countries.

40 Days for Life started its activities in the UK withbellsin Northern Ireland in 2009, and now has at least 15 UK chapters. His leader, Robert Colquhoun, received support for his work when he enrolled in the Leadership Institute's International School of Fundraising. The Leadership Institute, an organization based in Virginia, offers various forms of training and networking opportunities for right-wing politicians and activists in the US and around the world. In fiscal year 2019, according topublicly availabletax forms, the organization spent $92,494 on "educational seminars" and $25,871 on grants in Europe, along with substantial sums in the Middle East, East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and elsewhere.

"We have seen a real increase in protest activity over the course of this year," Katherine O'Brien, a spokeswoman for the non-profit British Pregnancy Advisory Services, told The Guardian. "Our fear ofhueva x wadebeing ousted not only inspired anti-abortion activists around the world, but also that American anti-abortion organizations may have a reserve of cash that they won't need to spend in the US and divert it here and around the world. world.

The motivations of these groups are clear. At the UK March for Life in September 2022, Sean Carney, US CEO of 40 Days for Life, stood in front of a banner reading "Life from conception, no exception" and referred to the overthrow of Roe v Wade. "If we can do it," he told the London crowd, "you can do it."

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playing a long game

In the United States, the extensive culture war has given rise to an enormous political and legal advocacy infrastructure to prosecute the case against abortion rights. At the center of this infrastructure is Alliance Defending Freedom, a right-wing legal advocacy group. Greg Scott, ADF's vice president of communications, told The Guardian that the organization's budget exceeded $102 million in the 2021-2022 fiscal year; in 2018, thefigurewas approximately 60 million dollars. According to the FDApublicly available tax datafor 2020, the most recent year on record, the organization claimed nearly $10 million in overseas spending; in the fiscal year2015-2016, the amount was just over $3 million. The ADF declined to answer questions from The Guardian about its most recent spending abroad.

The ADF is a key player behind a series of high court cases that have eroded the separation of church and state,Includingthe Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, which led to the annulment of Roe v Wade. Thisalsobrought the current case seeking to revoke FDA approval for mifepristone, one of the drugs used for medical abortions, and iswhat is discusseda supreme court case seeking to give business owners the right to refuse service to LGBTQ+ couples in the name of religious freedom.

In line with messages from other right-wing religious organizations, the ADF presents itself as a defender of freedom of religion and expression. “We are dedicated to promoting fundamental freedoms for all, and ADF International's efforts are focused on areas where human rights are under threat,” ADF International's director of legal communications, Elyssa Koren, told The Guardian. Critics of it, however, see it as an organization whose main focus is to impose conservative Christian ideas on the population through the legal system. The ADF played a role, for example, in promoting anti-sodomy laws around the world, including aleyin Belize which, before being overturned, made gay sex punishable by 10 years in prison.

'If we can do it, you can do it': US anti-abortion groups step up their activity in the UK (2)

The ADF, already a major player in the US, has long kept an eye on the rest of the world. With offices in citiesIncludingVienna, Brussels, Strasbourg, London and Geneva, ADF International's objectives are based on some of the same concepts and new legal arguments of “free speech” and freedom of religion. According to the EU Transparency Registry, the FAD spent €585,000($636,000) in lobbying in fiscal year 2021-2022. Vaughan-Spruce is one of the public faces of this effort to broaden the visibility of the anti-abortion right under the guise of free speech. Last fall, the policeloadedher on four counts of violating a buffer zone. ADF UK, which provided legal advice, called the charges harassment for the "crime of silent prayer". Those charges were eventually dropped, but she was arrested again last week for violating the same buffer zone.

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Father Paul Gough, a Roman Catholic priest who also spoke at the Birmingham event, wasloaded com“protest and participate in an act that intimidates service users” of a Birmingham clinic. His accusations werealso unmounted, with the help of the ADF. Subsequentlyhe appearedon the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News. "You know, I was praying for free speech, which I think is under threat in the UK," she said.

“We are seeing a steady increase in anti-choice harassment,” said Louise McCudden, UK consultant at MSI Reproductive Choices. "We know that anti-choice groups across the UK have been emboldened by the repeal of Roe v Wade and that they like to copy American-style tactics."

In the UK, where abortion rights enjoy wide support, increased anti-abortion activity in reproductive health centers has sparked a backlash that appears to be limiting the political gains of the movement. The UK high court recently recognized that harassment in healthcare facilities violates the rights of those seeking reproductive and sexual health information and services, and the UK Parliamentrecently changedlegislate the establishment of buffer zones around abortion clinics.

In addition to protest messages and tactics, US organizations are contributing to the influx of anti-abortion counseling centers or so-called "crisis pregnancy centers." There isabout4,000 of these operations are in the US, most affiliated with big chains like Heartbeat International, which has four subsidiaries in the UK. In accordance withan investigationaccording to BBC Panorama, at least 57 of these centers operate in the UK, more than a third of which provide misleading or unethical advice. An American organization, Stanton Healthcare, which operates a clinic inBelfast,recently expandedin Scotland. In 2018, a Times of London reportervisitedBelfast Clinic and recorded a conversation in which she was told that the abortion would cause her breasts to "fill with cancer" and warned: "Your uterus could be perforated, you could be sterile."

O'Brien,ofthe British Pregnancy Advisory Services warn that it would be dangerous to underestimate the potential impact of these groups. “We know that anti-abortion groups are well funded, well organized and well connected to influential parliamentarians,” she says.

“They go to schools, they go to universities, and they have a real desire to recruit the 'next generation' of anti-abortion activists. They know they are playing the long game and they believe they will win, even if it takes decades."

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