ANTI-ABORTION campaigners have been a regular sight outside of Scottish hospitals in recent years, harassing and intimidating women accessing health services.

The first pro-life protest of scale held in Scotland was outside of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow in 2016.

The super-hospital site would become the home of the largest protest ever held in the UK just two years later in 2018 when more than 200 protesters joined together. And just a few weeks ago, more than 100 gathered outside of the clinic in a show of strength on the last day of 40 days of action during Lent.

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But who are 40 Days for Life, the group behind the relentless campaign, and what does pro-life mean?

This week The National is running a campaign “Give Us Space”, in support of the introduction of buffer zones around Scottish hospitals and clinics to ban anti-abortion activists from continuing to intimidate and harass women.

Who are 40 Days for Life?

The international organisation was founded in 2004 in reaction to a Planned Parenthood facility that had opened in Bryan, Texas, in 1998. In the US, Planned Parenthood provides birth control, abortion services, and other primary care for women.

David Bereit, one of the founders who stood aside from his role as CEO of the organisation in 2016, would later convert to Catholicism.

The 40 Days for Life movement has found support from the Catholic Church in both the USA and the UK.The National: Shawn Carney, the CEO of the 40 Days for Life campaignShawn Carney, the CEO of the 40 Days for Life campaign (Image: YouTube)

By 2007, the founders of the group began to coordinate simultaneous nationwide "prayer vigils" outside of abortion service providers in as many cities as they could. The Catholic Exchange, a secular website, has claimed that the first national campaign saw vigils in 89 cities in 33 US states.

By the time the campaign started in 2009, the group had international cities, as well as those in the US, including Australia and Canada targeted by campaigners.

40 Days for Life's success comes from its ability to act like a franchise. Members from across the world can pay to have access to materials, support, and training. 

During the Repeal the Eighth referendum campaign in Ireland, which removed an amendment to the constitution that prohibited abortion unless there was a serious risk to the mother, 40 Days for Life became involved.

Ahead of the vote, a blog post on their website read: “All eyes are on Ireland this week ... as the Irish have an opportunity that Americans were denied? An opportunity to vote on abortion in their country.”

Ireland voted 66.4% Yes to repeal the amendment, to 33.6% No.

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At this point, 40 Days for Life had also begun to hold “vigils” outside of clinics and hospitals in Scotland and England.

The 40 Day for Life website includes claims that their actions have closed 136 abortion centres, as well as a counter for the number of "lives saved" and abortion workers who have "quit" due to their interventions.

There is no further data available to confirm the claims. 

What are "prayer vigils"?

The cornerstone of the 40 Days for Life movement.

Campaigners will stand outside of hospitals and clinics that provide abortion services holding signs with either graphic images or slogans, sometimes candles or lanterns, and undertake “prayer and fasting” in shifts.

The National: Activists from the 40 Days For Life group protested against abortion in GlasgowActivists from the 40 Days For Life group protested against abortion in Glasgow (Image: Stephen Fyfe)

In particular, the group steps up their action during Lent, over 40 days. This year, the group held vigils outside of the QEUH from February 27 to April 2.

What does pro-life mean?

Anti-abortion activists prefer to be described as pro-life. Those who subscribe to the worldview do not believe that women should be allowed to have an abortion and should go through with the pregnancy under all circumstances. This includes rape, and if the health of the mother is at risk.

Pro-life campaigners are also opposed to assisted suicide, euthanasia, and “embryo-destructive research”.

Pro-choice campaigners, on the other hand, believe that women should be given the autonomy to make their own decisions about their body, without the interference of the state, church, or anyone else.