Why These Women Blocked London’s Millennium Bridge This Weekend

Earlier this month, a 21-year-old girl in Northern Ireland was given a suspended sentence at Belfast Crown Court after buying abortion pills online when she was 19. Abortions are illegal in Northern Ireland, unless the mother's life is at risk – and the girl couldn't afford to travel to England for a termination. The pills induced a miscarriage; her housemates then phoned the police, reporting her for breaking the law. In a reaction to this course of events – and as a protest against the prohibition of abortion in Northern Ireland more generally – pro-choice activists blocked off London's Millennium Bridge on Saturday. The group, named 'The Bridge Club' wore red clothing as well as handcuffs (a symbol of the criminalisation of abortion) and held a banner that read: "BRING ABORTION LAW INTO THIS MILLENNIUM." Many abortions in the UK are now administered via the ingestion of Mifepristone pills, distributed in certified clinics, by a doctor. People who buy these pills online without medical advice and supervision could face a criminal penalty if caught – across the whole of the UK, not just in Northern Ireland.
The protest, intended to cause disruption on the bridge, was met with some hostile reactions. A spokesperson for The Bridge Club told Refinery29: "We had a really aggressive response from passersby, particularly men, but also women too – it's important to note many of them responded with comments like, "Don't you think you're protesting in the wrong place?" (as in, London rather than Ireland.) She continued: "We'd like to note that the group Feminist Fightback also protested on Saturday regarding harassment outside abortion clinics – the fact that people increasingly face this harassment (and the government refuses to instate buffer zones to prevent against it) is one of the key aspects of why more people are choosing to buy pills online and take them in the privacy of their own homes." At a time when abortion laws are in and out of the press – the Polish government want to tighten their country's legislation, for example – The Bridge Club want to see legislation come under review: "The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act (and equivalent common law offences in Scotland) - passed before women could vote – threatens the harshest punishments for self-induced abortion imposed by any country in Europe today, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland. This is two centuries out of date – 21st century women deserve contemporary legislation that removes abortion from criminal law entirely.”

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