THE anti-abortion protests in Scotland can be linked to an American religious organisation that acts as a pro-life “franchise”.

40 Days for Life, founded in Texas, are a religious group who have links to the Catholic Diocese and recruit members to stand outside of abortion clinics and harass and intimidate women seeking to access vital health care.

But how did they begin to operate in Scotland and the wider UK?

READ MORE: Give Us Space: Who are 40 Days for Life and what does pro-life mean?

We previously told how the first pro-life protest of scale held in Scotland and the UK was outside of the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow in 2016.

Since then, images of the protesters holding signs, posters, and candles at "prayer vigils" outside of the super hospital have become commonplace.

But before they stepped up action in Scotland, the campaigners started off in England, with Rachael Clarke, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), pointing out that while there have always been anti-abortion campaigners in the UK, there was a notable “uptick” in action in 2014.

“There was quite a lot more work that started happening between American groups and English groups,” Clarke said.

The National: Pro-life demonstrators outside the Marie Stopes clinic in EalingPro-life demonstrators outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing

“There was a flourishing of cross border organizations or people operating on a kind of franchise basis at protests.”

Clarke has been involved in the campaign in Ealing, West London, which became the first buffer zone to be introduced in the UK, after anti-abortion campaigners repeatedly targeted a clinic there.

She explained that while previously the activity would have been spotted by clinic staff, media coverage and the campaign “encouraged people to continue turning out”.

“They see what they're doing is under threat,” she said, “So it's you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

“Any publicity is good for them.”

READ MORE: 'Evil and vindictive': MSP reveals abuse from anti-abortion activists

Clarke also explained that while Glasgow was the home of the biggest protest in 2016, she believed many had been “bussed in”, and that is still how the group operates currently.

She said: “I don't think they're all locals. I think they bus them in from places across the middle of Scotland, the central belt.”

40 Days for Life is an international organisation, founded in Texas, US, but also has national organisations in countries across the world, creating an interlinked network of recruiters and protesters.

“Essentially what local groups do is pay an affiliation fee and then they can use the branding,” Clarke added.

“They can use the website to organise vigil hours.

The National: Anti-abortion protesters outside of the QEUH in GlasgowAnti-abortion protesters outside of the QEUH in Glasgow

“They get the same sign that say ‘pray to end abortion’.

“There's like goodies and candles and all other kinds of like swag, basically.”

When The National pointed out that our research found very little social media presence for 40 Days for Life, Clarke said that she wasn’t surprised.

“Broadly speaking, these groups started out as local church groups, and they've become more organised as they have affiliated,” she said.

“I would say the main way that these people recruit and coordinate is not on social media but on parish newsletters in church.

​READ MORE: What are buffer zones and when will they be introduced in Scotland?

“So Catholic churches will quite often have somebody from 40 Days for Life come and talk to them on Sunday and say, ‘Oh, I'm recruiting people to come along’, that kind of thing.

“So there's a lot more on the ground, actual on the ground recruiting, as opposed to social media recruitment that goes on.”

As Clarke pointed out, the protesters don’t need a large number of people to cause intimidation. In Ealing, anti-abortion activists reportedly shouted abuse at women attending the clinic, and handed some a foetus doll.

“The thing about these protests is you need a relatively small number of people to cause quite a lot of disruption,” Clarke said.

“If you've got two people that are willing to stand outside the clinic three days a week, you're talking about hundreds of women that are getting impacted.

“So realistically, I think that the numbers probably aren't so much of an issue.”