The Surprisingly Harmful Effects Of Peaceful Protests

PHOTO: Olivier Douliery/Getty Images.
Heated anti-abortion rhetoric has been all over the news this year, thanks a series of "sting" videos released by an anti-abortion group in April and the congressional hearings that followed them. But a new study has found that even the most peaceful demonstrations outside abortion clinics can have a traumatic effect on women. At a time when protesters are getting more aggressive and the Supreme Court has already nixed "buffer zones" outside clinics, this study could start a conversation about how to keep women safe in these circumstances.

The study, titled "A Hard Enough Decision to Make," looked at anti-abortion activism outside clinics in the U.K., but according to Broadly, the tactics they use are familiar ones. "Once a uniquely American phenomenon," Sarah Graham wrote, "anti-abortion protests, or 'vigils,' have been springing up outside British abortion clinics for the last few years."

The study's authors, Dr. Pam Lowe and Dr. Graeme Hayes, found that the mere presence of anti-abortion activists outside a clinic was enough to distress a woman who has an appointment. "Even if the women were not approached directly, many reported that being watched by activists was very intimidating," they wrote. "The presence of the activists outside the clinics was considered by clinic users to draw public attention to the decision that they had made."
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The study's authors, Dr. Pam Lowe and Dr. Graeme Hayes, found that the mere presence of anti-abortion activists outside a clinic was enough to distress a woman with an appointment.

Anti-abortion activists in the U.S. may have inadvertently lent more support to this study's findings this week. Protesters in North Dakota recently complained that a man with signs that mocked them made them feel threatened and disrespected. Clinic staffers told Jezebel that even supportive protesters can focus unwanted attention on women in need of medical services; the fact that there is even a need for clinic escort volunteers proves that protesters of all stripes add another stressful layer for women who need health care.

Republicans in Congress and anti-abortion activists spent all summer attacking Planned Parenthood thanks to a series of deceptively edited videos that a non-medical group calling itself the Center for Medical Progress released in an attempt to discredit the healthcare agency. Many states conducted investigations into the videos and found no evidence of any unethical or illegal behavior by Planned Parenthood, but the House has established a special committee to investigate the organization.

While most protests are far more similar to the ones the study focused on, more terroristic attacks are still happening. There have been four reported arsons against Planned Parenthood clinics in less than three months.
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