Why is a US anti-abortion organisation holding ‘prayer vigils’ outside the Hallamshire?
On the front line with pro-life and pro-choice activists
Good afternoon members — and welcome to Thursday’s Tribune.
Culture wars seem to be a big feature of our politics at the moment, on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the most bitter in the United States concerns abortion, with so-called “pro-life” and “pro-choice” activists battling it out on the streets of American cities as well as in the nation’s Supreme Court.
US anti-abortion organisation 40 Days for Life have been holding protests outside clinics all over America for the last 15 years — but until now it hasn’t had much of a presence in the UK. However, last week they began a 40-day “prayer vigil” outside the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Here’s what happened…
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💷 A shocking story by local democracy reporter Julia Armstrong in The Star about the “Doomsday Scenario” facing Sheffield City Council’s finances. Councillor Brian Lodge said the council needed to find an additional £18m worth of cuts, and that there were “no easy options” left after 12 years of austerity. Options are said to include moving to monthly bin collections, closing recycling centres and more libraries, or even making redundancies.
🗳️ Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was interviewed this morning on BBC Radio Sheffield. In the seven minute long interview with breakfast show presenter Toby Foster, Sir Keir gave his reaction to Liz Truss’s speech to the Conservative Party conference yesterday as well as her accusation that he was part of an “anti-growth coalition”. But he pointedly refused to commit Labour to backing striking workers, saying his job was to get the party back into government.
🗞️ A Sheffield newspaper which has been described as the “lynch pin of the community” is in danger of closure. The not-for-profit Burngreave Messenger, which was founded over 20 years ago to serve the diverse north-east Sheffield neighbourhood, held a public meeting at Abbeyfield Park House on Thursday, 6 October to discuss short-term funding options which they hope will help it through the next few months while long-term funding is secured.
Things to do
📚 Juno Books, the new bookshop we mentioned in our recent piece on Sheffield’s long history of radical booksellers, finally opens this weekend. The grand opening will take place at Juno’s premises on Chapel Walk this Saturday (8 October) from 11am-5pm. Whether Juno’s stock-in-trade of feminist and queer literature is your cup of tea or not, it will certainly be nice to see another unit on one of Sheffield’s most historic streets come back into use.
🖼️ Sheffield is blessed with hundreds of talented, small-scale producers and craftspeople making wonderful things. And this Saturday, 10 October, the Millennium Gallery Makers’ Market will showcase the very best illustration, ceramics, jewellery design, woodworking, textiles and glassware that the city has to offer. Visitors are encouraged to come along and discover unique items while supporting independent businesses. Suggested donation £1.
🎨 Andy from the brilliant Street Art Sheffield website will this Sunday, 9 October be holding a walking tour of the Devonshire and St George’s Quarters of the city centre. On the tour you will discover the large murals and hidden gems to be found in these areas, and learn some of the history of past artworks. The tour will last 1-2 hours and starts in the centre of Sheffield at 11am (confirmation of where the tour will meet will be sent once you’ve booked a ticket).
Why is a US anti-abortion organisation holding ‘prayer vigils’ outside the Royal Hallamshire?
By Dan Hayes
It looks like they’re not going to turn up — again. But one man on the pavement in front of me is acting like he’s waiting for someone. After a few minutes of him pacing up and down Glossop Road he’s joined by a woman carrying two placards. He arrives at about 6.30pm, she about five minutes later. Just as the dark is beginning to take over from the light.
The weather is atrocious: intermittent heavy showers and a chill wind makes it feel like Sheffield has bypassed autumn altogether and gone straight to winter. It’s a week since anti-abortion organisation 40 Days for Life began “prayer vigils” outside the Royal Hallamshire Hospital — but this is the first time I’ve seen anyone here.
When I introduce myself they’re a bit wary. The woman, well-prepared for the conditions with her entire body covered with layers of warm and waterproof clothing, is quiet and calm. The man, middle-aged and with a short greying beard, is more animated. They don’t want to have their photos taken but will give me their first names: Rachel and Andrew.
They’ve come not to protest, the word I keep using, but to pray. They tell me they sometimes hand out leaflets but never approach women, and also never use the graphic images of aborted foetuses that have become a common sight at anti-abortion demonstrations elsewhere. In all, Rachel says there are around 30 people in Sheffield taking part in this autumn’s vigils.
If they don’t approach people, what are they here to do? Their placards read “PRAY TO END ABORTION” and “PREGNANT? NEED HELP? ASK”, but when I’m there no one seems to be paying them much attention. Andrew tells me that as well as holding the placards and praying, they can offer “advice and support”, and talk about what they believe.
Which is what, I ask? “That every life is valuable,” says Rachel. “If they found a single cell on Mars they would say they had found life there. To say [a foetus] is just a clump of cells is…” she trails off before finishing her sentence. “That life begins at conception and abortion is wrong, it is horrible,” adds Andrew. “People aren’t aware of the support that’s out there. There are alternatives.”