“Abortion buddies” to help pregnant women as protesters get more intimidating
From Monday, women visiting abortion clinics in Rotterdam and The Hague can call on an "abortion buddy" to escort them into the clinic and past the anti-abortion protesters often hanging around the clinics. The around 20 volunteers' task is to accompany women as they enter the clinic and be a screen for these already vulnerable women against the protesters, at the initiative of feminism platform De Bovengrondse and the Humanistisch Verbond.
Last year, a majority in the lower house of Dutch parliament supported letting municipalities set up "buffer zones" around abortion clinics in the Netherlands. No anti-abortion protesters should be allowed in these buffer zones, to allow women to enter abortion clinics un-harassed. But a year later, the protests are continuing unabated, and even increasing at some clinics, according to a survey by De Bovengrondse and the Humanistisch Verbond among 11 of the 14 abortion clinics in the Netherlands.
The abortion clinic in Utrecht reported that intimidation and harassment outside its doors did not decrease, even after discussions with the police and municipality, AD reports. In Rotterdam, visitors are still being verbally attacked by anti-abortion protesters. The number of demonstrations in Enschede increased. And in Amsterdam, where there weren't demonstrations before, the first demonstration was recently held.
The protesters do not comply with agreements made in their demonstration permit, and the buffer zones do not keep them away from women, clinics said to AD. Women who go to the clinics have their way barred, are handed flyers with horrific images, or have a plastic fetus stuffed into their hands, according to the newspaper.
"Those people say that they are not there as a group, but as an individual. And that they have the right to advise someone. And I can't grab them by the scruff of the neck if they don't stick to decency rules and agreements," Gerrit Zomerdijk of Gynaikon Klinieken Rotterdam said to the newspaper. Manager Leo Querido of the Vrelinghuis in Utrecht said that the municipality has increased enforcement around the clinic, but the protesters are suddenly sweet and well behaved whenever an enforcer turns up.
"We are a year later. Many debates have been held, motions have been submitted, but our survey in collaboration with De Bovengrondse shows that nothing has changed," Humanistisch Verbond director Christa Compas said to AD. "The intimidation at abortion clinics continues unabated and in some places has even increased. This must stop and that is why we sound the alarm bell."
De Bovengrondse and the Humanistisch Verbond have therefore decided to try a new way of protecting women going to an abortion clinic. The volunteer "abortion buddies" will do their best to screen vulnerable women away from the protesters. Women who need a buddy, can book one from website Samennaardekliniek.nl. This experiment will run in Utrecht and The Hague from Monday, and will be expanded to the rest of the country should it prove effective.
The idea behind the buddy system is two fold - supporting women with an unwanted pregnancy in their rights, and making the pro-choice movement more visible, Eva de Goeij, coordinator of the buddy project, said to the Volkskrant. 22 abortion buddies were selected from 3,500 activists, and were trained on what to do. They signed a code of conduct, agreeing that they will not ask questions about the pregnancy or abortion, will not share personal experiences, and will not engage with anti-abortion protesters, among other things.
"We are neither activists nor aid workers. The only thing we do is walk to the clinic," one of the abortion buddies Trees Luiten from Schiedam said to the newspaper.
Director Zomerdijk of the Rotterdam clinic was initially hesitant to make use of the abortion buddies, because he does not want a "war zone" and "polarization" on his doorstep, he sad to the Volkskrant. "Clinics are there to provide careful and safe assistance to women who opt for an abortion. It must be possible for this to take place unhindered." The fact that the organizations behind this initiative promised that the buddies will act in a neutral manner and will not enter into discussions with demonstrators, reassured him for the time being.
Kees van Helden, director of anti-abortion organization Schreeuw om Leven, told the Volkskrant that his colleagues approach women respectfully at clinics, and that the women are often happy with the conversation. "At least twice a week, a woman decides to refrain from abortion," he said.