Britain’s biggest abortion provider has been subject to 2,500 hacking attempts in the last five weeks, amid concerns about the politicisation of the abortion debate and hostile targeting of women.
The abortion provider said that since his arrest, 2,500 attempts had been made to hack into its database, but BPAS assured women that their details were safe and that none of the attempts was successful. Around 800 of the hacking attempts came from North America, where abortion is illegal in some states and where it is still hugely controversial.
The motives behind the attempted hacking are unknown, and the BPAS is “reluctant” to comment on the suggestion that they were targeting women who had abortions. But James Jeffrey, who boasted about obtaining the 10,000 women’s details on Twitter, said he acted after two women he knew had abortions.
We can safely say the climate of the abortion debate has changed – that’s reflected in what we see outside our clinics and the James Jeffery case. Clare Murphy, BPAS
And while it was an extreme and highly unusual case, it is part of “a much greater anti-abortion climate”, Clare Murphy, BPAS spokeswoman, told Channel 4 News.
The BPAS was recently the target of an ongoing “vigil” protest during Lent this year by the US group, 40 Days for Life [pictured], which has set up branches in the UK. BPAS in Brighton has also been regularly targeted by the pro-life group Abort67, some of whose leaders are due in court charged with public order offences.
“We can safely say the climate of the abortion debate has changed – that’s reflected in what we see outside our clinics and the James Jeffery case,” said Ms Murphy.
Around 65,000 women contact the BPAS every year and around 55,000 have abortions under their supervision.
Abortion has been legal in the UK since the late 60s. But it has been back in the spotlight over the last year following MP Nadine Dorries’ campaign to reduce the time limit for terminations and to ban organisations which carry out abortion, such as the BPAS, from providing counselling.
MPs voted against her attempt to change the law. But in February, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley also ordered a short notice investigation of practices in abortion clinics, following a newspaper investigation.
There’s no justification for it. It’s not contributing to any meaningful debate, it’s victimising the people. Kerry Johnson, Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance
Kerry Johnson, from the Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance which held counter-vigils in response to those by 40 Days for Life, said she founded the group in reaction to a “ramping up of anti-choice movements”.
“It certainly seems to be more on the political agenda than it has been in recent years,” she told Channel 4 News.
“The hacking attempts do seem to show a move towards the more hostile American tactics,” she added. “There’s no justification for it. It’s not contributing to any meaningful debate, it’s victimising the people.”
Responding to analysis of the pro-life movement becoming Americanised, Abort67 told Channel 4 News: “If BPAS can hire an American to bring a ‘fresh approach’ to their work it seems hypocritical to say it is wrong for UK pro-life groups to partner with Americans. As long as BPAS are killing unborn children like the Americans, we will work like the Americans to save them.”
The most recent Ipsos Mori poll found that 53 per cent of the public agreed that women should have the right to an abortion, down from 63 per cent in 2006 and 65 per cent in 2001.
However, Ms Murphy points out that the number of people who disagree with abortions has remained the same, at around 17 per cent.
“There is a group in the middle who aren’t sure what they feel either way, and that’s maybe because abortion services have become part of the fabric of our society – it hasn’t been politicised until the last year or so – so people don’t think about it when they are asked if they agree,” she added.
The recent politicisation of the abortion debate may have seen an increase in the pro-life movement, but the BPAS has also seen an outpouring of support for its work, with women and men writing letters and phoning the organisation to state their support. “People are starting to think about it in the last year,” she adds. “I’d be very interested to see the results if that poll was run again,”