Anti-abortion posters are not ‘harassment’

Stella Creasy is right to defend the right to choose but wrong to demand the removal of ‘pro-life’ posters.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan

Anti-abortion protests use some of the lowest, nastiest forms of political action out there. From giving out knitted baby boots to women on their way to have an abortion to shouting ‘baby murderers’ at clinicians, they are rarely pleasant spectacles.

One of the favoured tactics of these anti-choice groups is to display pictures of fetuses – sometimes in the womb, sometimes bloodied on surgical trays – in order to promote their belief that abortion is child murder. This is what happened in Walthamstow, London when a giant billboard was put up displaying a ‘nine-week living fetus’ in the womb, complete with centimetre measurements. Paid for by the anti-abortion group, CBRUK, the poster also advertised a website – – referring to Walthamstow’s Labour MP, Stella Creasy. CBRUK has chosen to focus on Creasy for two reasons: because she is at the forefront of calls to decriminalise abortion by repealing parts of the Offences Against the Person Act, and because she is pregnant.

CBRUK seems to have no scruples whatsoever – its Stop Stella website goes into detail about Creasy’s miscarriages and her current pregnancy, calling her a hypocrite for talking about her ‘baby’ while advocating for abortion rights. Still, Creasy’s reaction to the poster has been wrongheaded. She tried to get the Metropolitan Police to remove the poster. When the police refused to get involved, she criticised them for thinking ‘this is just free speech’. She then put pressure on the advertising company that owns the billboard – it eventually agreed with her that the poster should be removed.

This is exactly the kind of reaction that anti-abortion protesters are hoping for when they use such shock tactics – and it is a shame that Creasy and other pro-choice activists keep falling into this trap. The poster was a matter of free speech. The advertising board even made clear that CBRUK’s campaign did meet its ‘requirements’ and was not deemed to be in contravention of UK Advertising Codes. The police were right to refuse to intervene to stop a certain viewpoint, however horribly expressed, from being displayed in public. By claiming that the poster was a form of harassment and harmful to women, Creasy has given the anti-choice nutters at CRBUK and other organisations reasonable cause to argue that they are being silenced. Any sensible person knows that driving extreme views underground only serves to harden those views and earn them a certain kind of glamour through censorship.

That CRBUK has targeted Creasy while she is pregnant is particularly odious. But the uncomfortable truth is that she is an MP with a certain political stance on abortion. This means that she, and other politicians, should be fair game for criticism from those who disagree with their position. Like it or loathe it, the anti-choice position is a moral and political one. What if the billboard had a different message – targeting an MP for their position on the bombing of Libya? Or on the migrant crisis? Or on food banks? Should other forms of speech against politicians also be restricted in case a politician feels ‘harassed’?

Perhaps the most important reason why Creasy should have tolerated that billboard is because the pro-choice position is meant to be about freedom. It is a demand for women’s freedom and autonomy. Any argument in favour of a pro-choice position has to understand the importance of demanding freedom more broadly – particularly freedom of choice and speech. The move to decriminalise abortion in this country will be a radical step – one which I and spiked have long argued for – but it cannot be won by silencing the opposing view. Just take a look at the boom in anti-choice activism in the US, where the main tactic of so-called pro-life organisations is to claim that their messages are being silenced on social media and elsewhere. If we want to win people to the cause of bodily autonomy for women, we have to play fair.

Before the advertising company that owned the billboard could acquiesce and remove the poster, some Walthamstow residents had taken matters into their own hands and painted over the giant picture of a fetus. Pro-choice sentiment in the UK and elsewhere is strong. A majority of us now believe that women are strong enough, capable enough and intelligent enough not to need doctors or politicians to decide when we should have children.

So let’s not wreck this progress by suggesting that a shock-tactic poster would dent our resolve to fight for freedom or make us feel harassed. To use the now-hackneyed Michelle Obama phrase, when they go low, we go high. Let the anti-abortion people put up what they like, and let’s stick to our principles – especially the principle of freedom.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: YouTube.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Elvis P

22nd October 2019 at 7:59 pm

Hanna jinks

I really find it difficult to come down on one side or the other in this debate. However, please please leave religion out of this. If you read you bible honestly and without cherry picking, your god would be the biggest mass child killer in history. The church recently celebrated Passover Now we all know that story “ Lambs blood , first born killed “. We won’t even mention “ Noah’s flood “ or was that global warming ?

Ven Oods

8th October 2019 at 7:41 pm

I don’t have any skin in this argument, but a quick search revealed:

“In 2018, the total abortions in England and Wales was 205,295. In this year, the abortion rate was highest for those of the age of 21, and 81% were for those who were single.”

That’s a lot of unwanted babies.

Gerard Barry

11th October 2019 at 3:29 pm

And a lot of irresponsible, promiscious and immoral women and men.

A Game

14th October 2019 at 12:09 pm

Its also a lot of future Family Law cases if they weren’t having abortions. When are people going to join the dots? People “making a go of it” in a relationship, a relationship they aren’t overly passionate about, but, well, why not compromise… and finally, three kids later, something gives… and now its acrimony and finger pointing in front of a judge who has to try and work out who is lying, or who is the bigger liar.
Secondly, we live in capitalism. People are trying to make plans, build a future. We’re also in a society that encourages sexual liberty. Women physically carry the can for that choice.
An unwanted pregnancy changes all the plans, enforces a relationship between two people that were never going to go the distance as a couple, for the next 18 years… that freshly taken out mortgage, the next 25 years of their life signed away… undermined, gone…
Abortion is a means of having some control over your life. For both men and women. Its just women’s bodies involved, so they get the final say.

Do I think there is a case for a light romance, resulting in pregnancy, and the woman chooses to keep the baby, that the man can say, No, I don’t wish to be involved with the child, I don’t wish to be financially involved… yes. But by god, they have to stick to it. No changing your mind 5 years later, unless the mother consents. Which I don’t think men can be trusted to do… emotional lot, very strange, all possessive and weird about this stuff, except for when they don’t want to be.

Nicky McG

8th October 2019 at 8:16 am

I don’t understand why this poster is even offensive. Maybe because it rather defeats the ‘it’s just a bundle of cells’ argument. Cold, hard truths are not offensive.

Gerard Barry

8th October 2019 at 9:27 am

I can imagine the poster is highly “offensive” to those who would rather keep their eyes closed to the reality of what abortion is.

A Game

14th October 2019 at 11:56 am

They have a ruler measure next to it. Imagine holding that skinless little thing, 5cm long, in your hand. Its a clump of cells with a resemblance to its species. Internally, it has nothing.
This kind of poster just confirms for many how sentimental and emotional people are about abortion. (But not so sentimental or emotional about much else. If we could just get to the why of that… if only…)

Simon Clegg

7th October 2019 at 10:22 pm

Ella makes no secret of her position on this topic, but some of her use of language in this article is disappointing: “anti-choice” and “so-called pro-life”. Does this make her side “anti-life” and “so-called pro-choice”?

steve moxon

6th October 2019 at 7:17 pm

The Stellar Crease-up is the usual femascist bigot who knows nothing much about any issue.
The issue in abortion is that there is zero excuse for any women not to know if she’s gestating, given instant, inexpensive, fully available pregnancy testing, on top of near-infallible, non-intrusive and free female contraception. Consequently, the four-week ‘heartbeat’ limit for termination easily could be introduced thereby to cut through the genuine moral clash between ‘right to life’ and ‘right to choose’. The former clearly has more moral force, but the latter also has some moral force, and hitherto the debate has been ireesolvable. No longer.

Gerard Barry

7th October 2019 at 11:13 am

Good point. I can never understand how almsot 200,000 abortions are performed in the UK every year despite the availability of so many different methods of contraception. I can’t figure out how people can be so irresponsible.

A Game

14th October 2019 at 11:51 am

There are a few extra layers, now, with your point.
Men and women are shacking up freely, together, when historically, they didn’t, before marriage. By living together, they are now free to engage in sex whenever they want. Late at night, in the morning, whatever… and if they are young and keen, and we’ve all been there, the relationship is on the new side, its a f**kfest. This now exposes the couple to a greater chance of conception.
Condoms can have issues. The pill, very vulnerable with changes in a woman’s body – got the runs, vomited from a rough prawn… they aren’t immediately thinking their pill is now not controlling their fertility. They continue to take their pill, and don’t think they are pregnant.

michael harris

5th October 2019 at 7:38 pm

No, there should never be a law against abortion. And it should be safely available. But persuasion is another matter. It’s a moral question, one of the most serious of all. Is it just ‘your’ body ? Are you in fact the ‘owner’ of the foetus? Are your ‘rights’ absolute ? Such questions can’t be hidden away forever in the ‘progressive’ closet.

steve moxon

6th October 2019 at 7:24 pm

No. Technology now means there could be introduced a four-week ‘heartbeat’ limit, with the threat of prosecution of women who chose not to make use of simple fully available technology to make themselves aware of their own gestational state. No woman should be allowed to engage healthcare workers in destroying any sort of viable foetus just because she can’t be bothered to take responsibility for it or has been reckless in that regard.

Gerard Barry

5th October 2019 at 2:54 pm

“Any sensible person knows that driving extreme views underground only serves to harden those views and earn them a certain kind of glamour through censorship.”

Being anti-abortion is not an extreme view and one I am proud to hold. I come from Ireland, where we had a referendum on abortion just last year. Around one-third of people voted not to legalise abortion on demand (it was already legal under certain circumstances, even though the pro-choice side acted like it wasn’t). Are one-third of the population of Ireland to be deemed “extreme” in their views?

Interesting, too, how none of the criticisms of the poster have been able to attack it based on facts. If this is what a nine-week old foetus looks like (kind of looks like a developing human being, doesn’t it?), women may as well know what they are doing when they have an abortion. Don’t shoot the messenger as they say.

A Game

14th October 2019 at 11:42 am

The 5cm long fetus also looks like the Alien found at Roswell.

A Game

3rd October 2019 at 6:18 am

She missed a trick. By being pregnant, she is able to say, yep, exactly, having babies is best when its a choice. The children tend to fair better once on the planet under those circumstances.
But of course she was rules by her feelings and instincts to cut down freedom of speech.

Cases of women having babies, indifferently, then killing them, or letting their “partner” kill them… I’d rather they’d had an abortion, thanks. A 3 month old with broken ribs and skull fractures… found post-morten, of course. Horrible. Poor, helpless baby. The 9 month old, the 2 year old…

How you lot weep for what you want to have control over, but have complete indifference towards once it is born.

Posey Parker’s “Women; adult human female” poster didn’t survive as long as this one.
As for painting it over… people might have found it gross.

Joyce Arthur

1st October 2019 at 8:29 pm

The writer overlooks that anti-choice billboards and campaigns like this are not just “free speech” – they are a form of hate speech that challenge women’s fundamental human rights. This campaign crosses a line because it targets Stella Creasy in a very personal and frightening way. The violent and harassing history of the anti-choice movement means this campaign raises serious concerns about Creasy’s privacy and safety. How might a fanatical extremist interpret the phrase “Stop Stella”?

Mike Oliver

1st October 2019 at 11:31 pm

I see what you did there. Pro-life, has been renamed anti-choice.
So on that basis, pro-lifers can now refer to you as anti-life, not pro-choice.
But I guess you would see that as hate speech.
And, as for the apparent violent and harassing history of the “anti-choice” movement, is it equivalent to the millions of dead fetuses, in many cases literally butchered?
I respect a woman’s right to choose, but don’t pretend that choice isn’t violent and bloody.
It’s an unpleasant reality, but sometimes the truth is ugly.

Cedar Grove

4th October 2019 at 10:34 pm

Nonsense. Pictures of foetuses are representations of a physiological fact.

Women have an absolute right to determine whether they wish to let someone else share their body space or not. That doesn’t mean no one has a right to express opposition to abortion.

And Ms Creasey was wrong to trade on her privilege & ask the police to enforce her point of view. The guerrilla poster-coverers I can live with.

steve moxon

6th October 2019 at 7:30 pm

Utterly false. It is in no sense a human right to destroy another human, even if as yet it is merely a possibly viable foetus. No woman should have any right to engage healthcare staff to be in cahoots with destroying life. She should instead be prosecuted for obliging such action. With the technology there is now, there is zero excuse for any woman not to know she is carrying a foetus, so the four-week ‘heartbeat’ limit for legal termination could be introduced with prosecution of women who fail to take responsibility for life within their own bodies. This would neatly cut through the moral impasse of the two opposing positions, giving both ‘right to life’ and ‘right to choose’.

Anne Richard

1st October 2019 at 7:56 pm

“Principles of freedom”; what nonsense. The self-righteousness of your rant here would be funny, were it not that this is a matter of life and death.

“We go high” – you’re talking about extinguishing a defenceless human life: it’s really quite hard to go any lower than that. Abortion may be a choice for a woman; it is death for the child involved, who has no choice. Showing pictures of foetuses simply means that women who prefer to ignore the fact that they are killing a child, are reminded of that fact. If they’re “strong enough” as you put it, to decide to dispose of their child, I’m sure they’ll cope with a picture on a billboard.

As for Stella Creasy, there’s another reason she was chosen as the target of these billboards, which you must be aware of but failed to include. She have been very active and vocal in Westminster in pushing to impose abortion – a very liberal abortion regime – on Northern Ireland, which is going to happen at the end of this month if the government at Stormont is not restored before then. There is no indication that there is a majority consent in Northern Ireland for abortion, but it would appear that Ms. Creasy doesn’t feel that the people of Northern Ireland have the right to a choice. She is both morally bankrupt and a hypocrite.

christopher barnard

1st October 2019 at 6:16 pm

Why does Ms Creasy think she should be protected from parts of the political debate about abortion she doesn’t like, an debate she has voluntarily taken a leading role in, just because she is pregnant?

Jane 70

1st October 2019 at 5:26 pm

Worth reading: unsafe abortions and ensuing morbidity are most prevalent in countries which restrict or ban access.

Many of these same countries have limited provision for contraception as well.

Having dealt with women in desperate need, I believe that abortion must be safe, legal and accessible.

As to Creasy and CRUK, seeking police help was daft.

Restrictions inevitably lead to the poor outcomes detailed in the Guttmacher report.

As to Creas

Jane 70

1st October 2019 at 5:27 pm

A bit garbled; need an edit button.

Nicky McG

8th October 2019 at 8:18 am

Does that compare like for like in terms of GDP etc? If not, then I don’t think it’s very valuable.

cliff resnick

1st October 2019 at 4:34 pm

“Some Walthamstow residents had taken matters into their own hands and painted over the giant picture of a fetus”. The truth hurts even if you paint over it.

Jim Lawrie

1st October 2019 at 8:23 pm

How would they know that they were residents? The use of that word is an attempt to pass off their actions as spontaneous outrage. Emotions, as always.

Hana Jinks

1st October 2019 at 3:40 pm

Smella Kneelin’ (Kneeling in obeisance – elbows-deep in the furedi woman).

Never in my life have l ever felt such strong feelings of detestation as l have towards you two. You both need to be locked up for your own safety, and that of society.
You commies are absolutely unbelievable. It’s as if you’re a different species.
What kind of cognitive dissonance allows you cretins to believe that you’re acting righteously?
You go wh oring around, even copping off uncontrollably, as you once put it. If you don’t understand the consequences of this, then how can you be arguing on behalf of the intelligence of women?
Who told you that you have the freedom to murder God’s unborn? Do you have no concept of how He feels when you do this?
Every knee shall bow at the Judgement Seat of Christ. You’re gonna have to give account of this, Smella. Think carefully about your choices.

Dominic Straiton

1st October 2019 at 3:30 pm

If a woman has the right to kill my baby I should have the right to at least abandon it.. Thanks to Dave Chappelle for this insight.

Jim Lawrie

1st October 2019 at 3:00 pm

An MP “phonin the polis” to complain about the electorate and then bawling like a baby when the Police do not silence them.
I totally agree Ella. It is about the desire to silence others.

Being pregnant does not mean you do not have to answer for your activism or that the rules are different.
Using your influence as an MP to have a poster you don’t like removed is an abuse of position.

Thomas Chacko

1st October 2019 at 2:33 pm

Well, she is trying to bring the abortion limit up to seven months of pregnancy *now* rather than at some other point, so they didn’t have much choice about whether to run the campaign while she is pregnant.

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