Women trying to get an abortion in Albury, New South Wales, have ended up self harming or even attempting suicide because of harassment from protesters outside the only clinic offering the procedure in the area, health workers have said.
A social worker, who did not want to be named because she has been frequently targeted by protesters, said women had been intimidated about attending the clinic for too long.
“Many women end up travelling to Melbourne or Sydney for the procedure because they can’t face the protesters,” she told Guardian Australia.
“Some teenage girls do self harm because they don’t feel safe going to the clinic here, or they’re worried they will be identified by the protesters and the whole city will know about it.
“They don’t have the resources to go to Melbourne or Sydney, their parents may not know, and they are so stressed and traumatised, they attempt suicide.”
One woman described how she panicked as the protesters began to approach. “I couldn’t take a step forward,” the woman, who did not want to be identified, said.
“I panicked very badly; my anxiety was so heightened I hyperventilated. I was so distressed knowing they were going to race at me.”
She said the group surrounded her and blocked her entrance to the clinic, telling her she was making the wrong decision and holding up graphic images of dead babies.
“I finally responded that I had no choice, that my foetus was likely both deformed and brain damaged, and that if I continued with the pregnancy that I’d likely leave four children motherless,” she said. “I was told that I should choose death. This ... made me hysterical.”
[W]omen were being filmed by protesters and that their names were being recorded, shattering their privacy.
A study conducted by a fertility clinic in East Melbourne found 78% of their patients were more traumatised by anti-abortion protesters than getting a termination.
Anna von Marburg, the co-ordinator for Albury Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, did not directly answer questions from Guardian Australia about claims women were being driven to self harm or being psychologically traumatised.
But she said the group had displayed “exemplary behaviour and incredible courage in the face of very aggressive tactics by abortion advocates”.
“The abortion clinic, abortion activists, police and pedestrians have hundreds of hours of footage of the [group] and have never been able to show evidence of any harassment, blocking, or violence,” she said.
She also dismissed Mourik’s assessment that staff were stressed as a result of the protests.
“Society should feel stress and anxiety that doctors and nurses are using surgical means to solve a largely psychosocial problem,” Von Marburg, who also runs the local Catholic bookstore, said.
“We believe that we can offer a solution that does not involve the destruction of human life.”
When asked why her group could not compromise and carry out protests down the street from the clinic, Von Marburg replied: “Why doesn’t Occupy Wall Street move to Kansas?”