Anti-abortion supporters campaign outside Portsmouth hospital

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood at the Scottish National Party conference

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PROTESTERS gathered outside a Portsmouth clinic today to call for the end of abortion for pregnant women.

Members of the Portsmouth branch of US group 40 Days for Life held a 12-hour ‘witness’ outside St Mary’s Community Hospital, home to the city’s British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) clinic.

Pat and Jim Gilhooley, Rebecca (surname not given) and Eileen Steward at the anti-abortion vigil

Pat and Jim Gilhooley, Rebecca (surname not given) and Eileen Steward at the anti-abortion vigil

The group stood outside the hospital’s main entrance, displaying their posters and banner to car drivers and passers-by.

One of the group, Rebecca, said the witness was the beginning of a 40-day period of prayer for ‘the sanctity of life’.

Rebecca, who did not want to give her surname, added: ‘My personal belief is that life begins at conception, and that life is sacred because the creator, our God, has created this world and bought us into being

‘These babies have no-one to stand up for them.’

The rival message from pro-choice campaigners

The rival message from pro-choice campaigners

Also among the group was Pat and Jim Gilhooley, who travelled from Fareham to take part in the witness.

Pat, 62, said: ’I think women suffer as a result of abortion and I want there to be alternatives. More money should be given to help offer another option.’

Her husband Jim, 61, added: ‘We want to let the people who work at the clinic, and those who consider abortion, know that there is other support available.’

While The News was talking to group members, two women from Portsmouth arrived and started their own pro-choice protest.

One of them, Rachel Black, said she had previously had an abortion of her own. She said: ‘Women should have a choice. We are not in the 1950s any more.

‘I’m here for my daughter because I think it’s important that she can make a decision if she was in that situation.’

The Back Off campaign, fronted by BPAS, is calling for MPs and the government to establish buffer zones outside clinics where anti-abortion activity cannot take place.

A BPAS patient, who did not want to be named but previously encountered a 40 Days for Life protest, said: ‘It made an extremely difficult decision even more horrendous than it could and should have been.

‘I suffer from mental health problems and I felt the comments made by “protestors” significantly increased my anxiety. No one should ever have to deal with that.’

Chris Francis, treatment unit manager at BPAS Portsmouth, said: ‘This issue is about women accessing services. They need to be able to reach our clinics unimpeded and without judgement when they need us.’

Anyone who wants to talk to BPAS can call 0345 730 4030 or go to bpas.org.