I had to tell someone to keep their unwanted baby: My life working at a UK abortion clinic
‘I thought they’d take their own life after that’
TW: Abortion, miscarriage and one brief mention of rape.
The threat of rain loomed as an army of broken women made their way to Devizes market, Wiltshire. It had been a grim week for body politics, as over 3,000 miles away, the US Supreme Court made the devastating decision to overturn a woman’s legal right to abortion in selected states.
Much closer to home, the MP for Devizes made national headlines for speaking out against a woman’s right to bodily autonomy in Parliament. Danny Kruger stood up in front of his peers and, without taking a moment to consider the impact of his words, said: “(Protesters) think that women have the absolute right to bodily autonomy. Whereas, I think in the case of abortion, that right is qualified by the fact another body is involved.”
Among the dozens of women protesting on Saturday (2nd July), one stood out above all the rest. Vik Harvey held a sign high in the air, reading: “Hey Danny – it’s not your fanny.” She’d worked in abortion clinics around the UK for six years, and now offers help and advice through BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service). I went to meet her, in order to find out just how dire the abortion situation is becoming in Britain.
‘We take hundreds of calls a day’
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Vik has been with BPAS since 2016. “I primarily worked in clinics for most of that time,” she told The Tab. “On a day-to-day basis, we’d do a lot of face-to-face consultations and ultrasound scanning. There was some surgery involved as well – clients up to 12 weeks could undergo vacuum aspiration (the process of removing a foetus or embryo from the cervix using a suction-type device).
“The clinic would run about six consultations a day per nurse, often seeing multiple pregnant people at the same time. Nowadays, the team takes hundreds of calls a day from distressed clients. These could be anything, from: ‘I’ve got my pills and I don’t know how to take them’ to ‘I’m haemorrhaging, and I don’t know what to do.”
‘I met a student who made the toughest decision of her life – and she inspires me to this day’
The abortion provider admits her work is “hard but rewarding” – and during her training at a hospital, a pregnant 17-year-old changed the course of her career forever.
“One of the most memorable shifts I ever had was when I was a student. I looked after a 17-year-old who – I think – was about 16 weeks. She had something medically wrong with her, which meant she wouldn’t be able to get an abortion in a clinic. But she was insistent she didn’t want this baby. I sat with her for a while, just chatting to her about her decision.
“She really wanted to go to uni and study criminology,” Vik continued. “I thought she was so cool. She was absolutely devastated about what had happened to her – but she knew she was making all the right choices for herself and her future.”
‘I genuinely thought people would take their own lives’
Before the interview, while Vik and I were chatting over email, she confessed to me there were a huge number of hurdles in her role, and “I can only see it getting worse.” I asked her what she meant by this – and was surprised to learn the UK’s rarely-discussed abortion laws were responsible for her workplace trauma.
The cold, hard fact of the matter is, in Britain, we don’t have as much autonomy over our own bodies as we think. If a pregnant person chooses to get an abortion, they need to be signed off by two doctors – both of whom need to have concluded that having a baby would bring significant emotional, physical and mental distress. Even then, there’s a time limit of 24 weeks.
“The absolute worst part of the job would be scanning a patient and realising they were over the 24-week limit, and having to say to them: ‘Look, I’m so sorry. You’re going to have a baby.’ I effectively had to tell certain patients they needed to prepare to give birth to their rapist’s child, just because of some arbitrary time limits set by the government,” Vik said.
“I genuinely thought, in some cases, they’d go on to take their own lives after that.”
‘An anti-choice protester persuaded my client out of a life-saving abortion’
It was recently reported a number of abortion providers across the US had been targeted with harassment, violence and intimidation; and clinics subjected to vandalism. With Roe v. Wade dominating headlines across the world, it’s easy to see US politics as a different species. These ultra-conservative, fundamentalist views only affect marginalised groups thousands of miles away, and we have nothing to worry about in sleepy England.
But anti-choice protesters have been using intimidation tactics on UK abortion clinics for years – with over 100,000 British people targeted in 2019.
“They’ll screech at you, they’ll harass you – particularly if you’re wearing scrubs,” Vik told me. “One time, this man got me alone in a car park. He asked if I worked at BPAS and – thinking he was just the partner of someone who had an appointment – I said yes, and asked him if he was okay. He started grilling me, asking if I ‘knew I was going to hell’. I paid for my parking and ran off, down the alleyway where my clinic was.
“He came running after me, wielding big, graphic images of foetuses. When he caught up to me, he told me I’m going to be judged at the gates of heaven, with the blood of ‘all these babies’ on my hands. It was horrible. He stood outside and started saying the same thing to our clients as they walked in – which would’ve just been incredibly traumatic for them.”
The same man even managed to convince a woman she was doing something wrong. “She’d driven hundreds of miles to get to us – 100 per cent confident of her decision to have this abortion. Medically, she would’ve been in real physical trouble if she’d continued with the pregnancy. And he convinced her to go home that day”.
Vik assures me the woman returned a few days later, taking the pills she needed to go through with the termination.
‘Danny Kruger has outed himself as a horrible man’
In solidarity with members of the Devizes constituency who can get pregnant, Vik had a few choice words for man of the hour, Danny Kruger. I told her I’d seen a number of her tweets expressing anger at him – and I hoped she didn’t mind me pointing out that she publicly called him an “anti-choice twat.”
“I once received an unpleasant response from him when I emailed to ask if he could take action on the anti-choice protests,” Vik told me. She claims she contacted him to ask for barricades to be put up at the next protest, and wasn’t happy with his reaction. “I’m actually quite glad he’s outed himself as a horrible man.”
I asked Vik if she’d like to use this article to address Danny publicly. Here’s what she had to say:
“I think it’s really important you remember you’re a member of parliament and you represent people within your constituency. You can see – from the huge turnout to our small town protest – that so many people think you’re wrong. I’d invite you to come and spend a day in a BPAS clinic, so you can see the women’s lives we’re changing and the amazing, empathetic care we provide.”
The MP has insisted he “does not wish to dictate what a woman should do with her own body, as has been claimed.”
Danny Kruger did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
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Featured image via Vik Harvey/Unsplash.