Anti-Abortion Clinic Activism, Civil Inattention, and the Problem of Gendered Harassment

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In the UK, there is evidence of a recent increase in anti-abortion activism outside clinics. In response, abortion service providers have called for the introduction of ‘buffer’ zones to protect women from ‘harassment’ while accessing abortion services. Drawing on two datasets – extensive ethnographic fieldwork, and a content analysis of clinic client comment forms – we deploy Goffman’s concept of ‘civil inattention’ to further our understanding of the material practice of anti-abortion clinic activism. We find that although anti-abortion activists understand their own actions to be supportive, practices of religious observance outside clinics inescapably draw attention to the site and to the act of accessing healthcare, inherently challenging normative expectations of privacy and confidentiality. Our analysis suggests that anti-abortion activism outside clinics consequently violates social rules governing encounters with strangers in specific places and reinforces gendered hierarchies. As such, they are often experienced as acts of gendered harassment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)330-346
Number of pages17
Issue number2
Early online date23 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2018. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)


  • anti-abortion activism
  • civil inattention
  • gendered street harassment
  • public witness


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