The leader of the fundamentalist Protestant party SGP has been criticised for joining a group of pro-life “vigilantes” at an abortion clinic in Rotterdam-Zuid on Thursday and attempting to politicise the issue.
Vigilantes attempt to talk to women entering the clinic to dissuade them from having the procedure and hand out flyers.
Chris Stoffel’s presence was meant to raise awareness of the “important work they are doing,” party spokesman Cornel van Beek told the NRC. “The protection of unborn life is an important issue in the SGP manifesto,” he said, emphasising that Stoffels did not speak to women directly and only talked to the anti-abortion protestors.
Gerrit Zomerdijk, director of the Gynaikon clinic told the AD that Stoffer has a right to be here but only if he sticks to the rules. “Freedom of speech is a great good in the Netherlands and it’s very important it stays that way,” he said.
The SGP leader said he regretted the decisions that have been made in the last five years, including the abolition of the five-day wait and the decision to allow family doctors to prescribe the abortion pill.
The practice of holding vigils at abortion clinics is controversial and parties have frequently asked for a ban on demonstrations at the clinics. VVD leader Dilan Yesilgöz said on social media she had had enough of “this deeply conservative stuff” and called the actions of Stoffels and the group “frankly intimidating”.
GroenLinks MP Corinne Ellemeet, who was one of the initiators of the abolition of the waiting timne, said “this is not Hungary, or Texas, or Poland, this is happening in the Netherlands.”
Stoffer said the vigilante group is not intimidating, or at least are not intending to intimidate. “They don’t look intimidating. I think they are doing a good job”, he said.
The pro-lifers themselves admitted that the contents of their flyers can be confrontational but Stoffer said the women “don’t have to look at them. It’s up to them to take them and read them, or not,” he said.
Although the SGP’s anti-abortion stance is nothing new, Stoffel’s style seems more activist than that of his predecessor Kees van der Staaij. The clue is in the elections, the NRC writes, as the SGP is currently on three seats. The expected high turnout is not necessarily conducive to keeping them, even if the party faithful vote, the paper said.
The party is also in competition with the NSC and BBB for the floating vote and has chosen to distinguish themselves from other right-wing parties by actions like these, the paper said. Stoffer is on record as saying he would rather work in a coalition with the PVV, whose anti-islam stance it shares, than the Liberal democrats of D66.
The number of abortions in the Netherlands had been steady since 2011, with around 30,000 terminations a year. The number slowed during the coronavirus pandemic but jumped by 15% in 2022.
Stoffer has said he will join another anti-abortion vigil at a clinic in Utrecht province on Friday.