‘We are anti-harassment’: We spoke to the Edinburgh students behind Back off Chalmers

‘Anti-choice activity is incoherent with our right to confidentially access essential medical services’

Pro-life protestors have returned to Chalmers Centre, an NHS sexual health clinic in Edinburgh. They’re protesting abortion services offered at the clinic and are intimidating people using the clinic for any service, abortion-related or not. Several Edinburgh students have decided they’ve had enough.

Back Off Chalmers was founded by Ella Cheney, a fourth year philosophy student who wanted to do something about anti-choice protestors outside Chalmers Centre.

She said: “This isn’t a freedom to protest issue. Protests start public discourse and engage institutions on issues – they don’t target individuals accessing medical services.

“Anti-choice activity outside clinics is incoherent with our right to confidentially access essential medical services – with our right to choose.”

Ella Cheney, the movement’s founder

The organisation consists of a group of Edinburgh University students: Emma Ahlert, head of social media, Mia Morgalla, head of fundraising, Karolina Zięba, content creation and digital outreach teams, Alice Murray, content creation and social media teams, and Paola Lindo, content creation and fundraising teams.

The Edinburgh Tab recently spoke to Lucy Grieve, head of press and policy for the movement.

What is this movement’s message?

Lucy Grieve and Emma Ahlert

We decided to launch this campaign following the return of anti-choice protesters outside Chalmers Sexual Health Centre in Edinburgh. Our overarching message, as a small grassroots campaign, is that we are anti-harassment. Women should be able to access healthcare advice and treatment in confidence and free from intimidation.

What about freedom of speech?

Our movement doesn’t look to de-platform any organisations, instead we want buffer zones (legitimised through law) that work to mitigate any moves to restrict or affect women’s access to vital healthcare.

What is particularly challenging about a movement like this?

Mia Morgalla and Karolina Zięba

Clinic protests in Scotland date back to 1999 so despite the best efforts of many, this is a recurring issue that has been met with a lack of action from local and national government. One of the most difficult stumbling blocks to overcome when starting a campaign like this is continued interested and participation so that the campaign doesn’t lose momentum.

What have you achieved so far? What is your ultimate goal?

We have just shy of 4,600 signatures on our Edinburgh petition. In addition to this we have reached over 10,000 people through our Facebook page, recruited over 60 volunteers, and collaborated with local organisations such as Lighthouse Books (who are donating 15 per cent of proceeds from books to our fundraising efforts throughout November) and Young Women Scot. We are also working directly with BPAS and the Humanist Society Scotland.

The ultimate goal is invariably to protect all patients across Scotland, whether seeking access to abortion services or other reproductive and sexual health services, from targeted harassment. We hope that our campaign will put enough pressure on the government so that they address the issue.

What is the easiest way for a student to get involved?

Alice Murray and Paola Lindo

Anyone can get involved with the campaign by submitting an application here. We are asking volunteers to commit a minimum of one hour a week to whichever element of the campaign they are interested in. If you would like to get involved but can’t commit to the campaign there is still the opportunity to collaborate – just let us know what you would be interested in getting involved in through our social media pages!

If you would like to sign the petition, you can find it here.

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