It’s caused outrage with some and been supported by others, but many residents in Wenlock Terrace in York have grown tired of the attention that the ‘York 40 Days For Life’ anti-abortion vigil has brought to their area.
Their anger led to them calling the police this evening (Sunday) as nearly 20 people turned up to pray.
Neighbours want a ‘safe zone’ created outside the BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) centre before the protestors return possibly in March. It’s said the presence of the vigil has caused people to lose weight and break down in tears.
A vigil spokesman argues that they are simply involved in peaceful prayer. This evening as they left they were told by one resident to go and not come back. However YorkMix has been told they want to return for Lent
A petition for action by creating a ‘safe zone’ has collected over 2400 signatures.
David Dunning has been finding out that feelings are running high on both sides in this video report with additional material from Chloe Laversuch, Local Democracy Reporter in the city.
Sunday Evening 1st November
There were about 18 people outside the clinic, some holding candles, in the pouring rain. Largly silent apart from some quiet prayer and ignoring the protests of the residents who were talking about fears of social distancing and saying the police had been called.
The police didn’t arrive and the vigil ended at 7pm. Charlotte who livcs opposite the clinic said she felt let down by the force. “We have had to put up with this for a month and now with 20 people outside my house chanting they dont seem to care” She says a Safe Zone can’t come soon enough.
Calls for the council to act and the spokesperson for the vigil argues they have a right to peaceful prayer
One woman, who we have chosen not to name, told a council zoom meeting last week:
“I get regularly scared walking past big groups of lads on a Saturday night in York with the fear of being harassed, so I can’t even begin to imagine how scared I’d be walking into the clinic with big groups on either side surrounding me.”
Tom Shillito, who started the petition for a safe zone, said to councillors this week:
“The protest by the anti-abortion group is causing serious distress on a daily basis to residents on Wenlock Terrace, not only to those with direct experience of abortion services but also to countless others, many of whom are working from home.
For former abortion service users in the area, this protest is dredging up extremely painful memories which they hope to leave in the past.
One resident has reported experiencing night terrors and several have been reduced to tears on numerous occasions.”
Mr Shillito, who lives in close to the centre, points to Ealing Council in West London which has used a Public Spaces Protection Order to enforce a 100m safe zones around abortion centres there, so that women can access legal healthcare safely.
He wants York to follow their example.
Another resident in the area is Dr Paige Davis, a Senior Lecturer in Psycology at York St John University and she has been explaining the harm that she thinks vigils or protests cause.
She argues that it is not just women who visit the clinic, it’s everyone who lives locally or walks past who may have been affected by the issue in the past.
She too wants to see it moved away from the street.
Sebastian Sanyal, the organiser of the vigil, says ‘40 Days for Life’ is a peaceful, socially distanced prayer campaign which sought the end of abortion and was being staged outside the clinic because it had been the location of abortions.
Mr Sanyal say they do not judge they are just there to pray against abortion itself.
“It’s the sin of it, we are not really to here judge the sinner” he said.
He told YorkMix if a Safe Zone is introduced they will respect that. They plan to return in the future, possibly during lent.
And he added that the petition is trying to infringe a legal right to pray in a public place, and say it is “powerfully meaningful” to pray outside a clinic where possibly hundreds of abortions have occurred.
He says they do not have placards and they do not approach people unless they come up and speak.