THERE hadn’t been anti-abortion protests outside Sandyford sexual health clinic in Glasgow for many years.

But as spring sprung, there appeared a dark and intimidating brand of anti-choice activists outside the entrance, armed with signs plastered in wounding language not seen before by staff.

“Babies are murdered here” and “abortion is genocide” they said, while abortion providers and patients were being branded “sinners”, and not just through placards.

Protesters were using mics to ­amplify themselves so their words could be heard at the front of the ­clinic where consultations were ­taking place. Some have even now taken to using body cams, threatening the privacy abortion care deserves.

Dr Audrey Brown, abortion ­consultant at Sandyford, said this is the new reality her team are facing; women forced to run the gauntlet as they go to access healthcare they are entitled to.

“It makes me upset because I think abortion care providers over the past couple of years really have worked hard to make it a very patient-centred, safe space where people can talk to a member of staff and explain how they’re feeling,” said Brown.

“But just having that outside ­threatens that safe space we’ve worked hard to provide.

“It makes me feel angry, the ­language they’re using, saying that ­patients are sinners and the staff providing the treatment are murderers.

“I think it’s also been ­distressing that one of the people outside ­Sandyford appeared to be wearing a body cam. From the point of view of anyone accessing the service, it’s ­confidential and I think a lot of ­people would feel very anxious ­walking in somewhere where someone is ­standing within 10 feet of the door with a bodycam on, because we don’t have any control over where that footage could be shared.”

The way in which Sandyford is laid out means the doors of the ­clinic open right out on to the pavement where the activists stand and there is no other entrance to the building.

As well as being heard by staff ­providing abortion services, the ­bellows of preachers are heard by employees running the switchboard and even those providing care after rape.

It has now got to the point where some of the language and ­materials used are so disturbing, staff are ­having to warn patients prior to their appointment about their presence outside. If they don’t get the chance to do this, often they are having to calm ­patients down before their ­consultation.

Brown said: “There are multiple services in the building including care after rape and sexual assault. I suspect many of those patients might be feeling anxious and to then have to run the gauntlet past this rabble ­outside is ridiculous.

“We’ve definitely had people who have been visibly shaken and ­distressed by the protests.

“Also, people can come to the clinic with a supporting person and again they can feel quite angry, so we have to work to try and calm the situation and say to them don’t approach them, they’re trying to antagonise you.

“It adds another layer to what can be a difficult consultation for people to have.

“What we’ve also tried to do is if there is a protest outside we’ve phoned ahead to people that are ­coming to warn them.”

THE sharper nature of recent demonstrations has been largely put down to American influences, with members of Texas-based group 40 Days for Life holding so-called prayer vigils outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Over recent months, there is a sense many protesters have felt ­emboldened after a leaked document suggested the US Supreme Court could overturn the 1973 decision to legalise abortion nationwide.

“The protests outside Sandyford are fairly new. There haven’t been ­protests there in years,” added Brown.

“I think what’s going on in ­America is part of it. I suspect it’s given a

degree of confidence to anti-choice protesters.”

Brown has been particularly hurt by some claims from protesters that clinicians don’t present other options to patients seeking an abortion or don’t ensure women are happy with their decision before going through with it.

She added: “When someone ­approaches us with an ­unplanned pregnancy we would do a ­consultation where we’ll talk through their ­options.

“Then if they wanted to get an abortion we would discuss how that would happen and what the risks are, and then take them through a consent for the procedure. The vast majority of abortions are with tablets, so we would then talk people through what the medications are, how to use them, prescribe them and complete the legal certificate.

“We would then make up a home care treatment pack for them with all the medication they might need.

“Anyone going for a medical ­procedure is going to have a full ­discussion of the choices they’ve got.”

Green MSP Gillian Mackay has recently launched a consultation on her legislative proposal to designate protest-free buffer zones outside abortion clinics.

Some of the signs being displayed at clinics are deeply offensive

Brown is a strong advocate for the move, with staff having little option at the moment but to report a ­distress and disturbance to police when ­protesters are causing issues.

At a place like Sandyford where patients have no choice but to face down anti-choice activists on their way in, she feels buffer zones are vital and has suggested some of the more offensive language on signs may also need to be looked at.

“A buffer zone would help in a ­situation like ours,” Brown said.

“It would at least mean the ways people could get into the clinic would be protected.

“I think as well there needs to be some sort of control over what ­people have on the placards. Some of the placards that have been used more recently in Glasgow have said babies are murdered here. I’ve also seen signs saying abortion is a holocaust or a genocide. It’s totally inappropriate.

“For any aspect of healthcare no one should be harassed but I think the language is particularly upsetting from these protestors. The NHS does not tolerate harassment and I think that’s what it is for both patients and staff.”