Abort67 protest against a clinic in Blackfriars. Yvette Cooper's proposal would create a "buffer zone" around clinics. Photo: Abort67/Telegraph
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Yvette Cooper proposes protest-free buffer zones outside abortion clinics

Following increased claims of intimidation and harassment outside clinics, Cooper has proposed the introduction of "buffer zones".

Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has called on the government to introduce “buffer zones” around abortion clinics in response to reports that women are having difficulty accessing services due to harassment from protestors. She said:

Women should never be intimidated or threatened on their way to a healthcare appointment or on their way to work. No matter how strongly protesters feel about abortion themselves, they don't have the right to harass, intimidate or film women who need to make their own very personal decision with their doctors. Everyone has the right to access legal healthcare, medical advice and supprt and to have some privacy and space to do so – and that includes abortion services. 

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) has claimed that an increased number of protests outside clinics are intimidating women and interfering with their access to legally available medical treatment. Following the tactics of pro-life groups in the US, UK campaign groups like Abort67 and 40 Days for Life have taken to posting photographs they contend are of aborted foetuses outside clinics and filming women as they enter.

It's claimed that one clinic has been closed as the “direct result” of protest actions which included blocking the entrance to the building.

Staff have also been targeted, with one worker at a Blackfriars clinic requiring a police escort to get to her car after leaving work. Abortion Rights, the national campaign for a woman’s right to choose, have called for the government to intervene after police at the practice said they “do not feel existing legislation gives them the space” to adequately control the situation. They claim that “[a]nti-abortion extremists” have “flooded the area”, specifically targeting a mother and baby.

Speaking to the New Statesman, Abort67 founder Andy Stevenson says that MPs are"gullible" and "being hoodwinked" by Bpas. He claims that the allegations of harassment are "completely false" and calls buffer zones an unecessary attack on free speech, "based on lies".

Cooper explains that her proposal, which draws on legal remedies suggested by the US-based National Abortion Federation, would not prevent pro-life activists from protesting but would require them to stay a certain distance from patients:

Everyone should be allowed to hold legitimate protests. But they shouldn't be intimidatory ones right in front of the doors of clinics - we don't want US style abortion wars here. That's why we need a new system of buffer zones which can be introduced to move the location of protests or prevent filming of staff and patients if problems arise.

An Early Day Motion also advocating for the creation of buffer zones was introduced in parliament last year by Caroline Lucas, and has been signed by Cooper's fellow leadership contender, Jeremy Corbyn.

Stephanie Boland is head of digital at Prospect. She tweets at @stephanieboland.

Photo: Getty
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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?