THE main road just outside Meadowhall, on a cold and wet Saturday morning is not the first place that you may except to find opposing factions of the abortion debate.
Saturday morning shoppers were faced with two very different demonstrations whilst sitting in the inevitable traffic jams that snarled up the entrance to Meadowhall.
On one side of the abortion debate was the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), who state that an abortion is an injustice against a member of the human family, the pro-life side of the abortion issue.
Anthony Ozimic, the spokesperson for SPUC, said, "It’s not a demonstration but a vigil in the memory of the unborn children that have died from abortion." The 30 or so supporters of SPUC simply prayed and reflected on the issue of abortion.
On the same side of the street but on a different ethically diametric were a multitude of organisations and individuals who made up the pro-choice side of the debate.
The group, which was organised through the social networking site Facebook, was a much noisier affair. They waved placards and cheered at the slow-moving traffic.
Mat Baily set up the Facebook group ‘Counter-demonstration to defend reproductive rights’. Mat stressed that he was not an official organiser but just someone who believed that a women should exercise control over her own body.
He also countered the claim that there were 30 SPUC members there: "I don’t think there were anything like 30 people from SPUC there, maybe a few more than 10 but not much more. We seemed to outnumber them by at least two to one at all times."
"We got a very positive response from the slow moving motorists," said Mat. "They beeped their horns and gave us the thumbs-up".
Anthony Ozimic described the scene very differently. He accused the pro-choice demonstrators of deliberately intimidating and insulting SPUC members who were mainly Catholic.
Anthony described the counter demonstration against SPUC as "very very offensive" but it is now commonplace for other groups to have very noisy demonstrations littered with profanities and offensive slogans.
One placard read: "I asked God and she’s pro-choice".
"This is designed to be offensive, most pro-choice demonstrators know that the majority of pro-lifers have a very traditional view of God, in which he is a man and hates abortion," said Anthony.
"Given that the SPUC members seemed to be almost entirely Catholic they may regard signs such as ‘Keep your rosaries off my ovaries and Keep the Eucharist out of my uterus’ as derogatory, but I don’t agree with them at all," said Mat.
"For our part we were pleased to see that SPUC in Sheffield didn’t stoop to using signs with gruesome and often faked images of aborted fetuses on them," Mat added.
Anthony Ozimic said that the organisation as a whole does not use images of aborted foetuses in public but just in an educational setting with a warning. The wet morning spent on an artery road in post-industrial Sheffield is but a small microcosm of the abortion debate within the UK.
The actors are broadly similar to the ones that were in Sheffield and the pro-choice and pro-life rhetoric is used by a multitude of agencies that fall within one of the two categories.
The centric argument of the debate is: when is a human life is formed? The pro-life contingencies make the point that a human life is created at the earliest moment in the reproductive chain.
Josephine Quintavalle, a spokesperson for prolife.org.uk, said: "Biologically life begins at conception." Their view is that the continuum of life should be protected right from the start and that the foetus is a separate entity from the woman. "It’s not actually your body that you are killing, but a guest in your body," said Josephine.
Numerous medical textbooks that the organisations have consulted back up the pro-life stance taken by Josephine.
This is totally dismissed by the organisation Abortion Rights, who campaign for the right to safe and legal abortions in the UK.
The spokesperson for Abortion Rights said that they recognise that a pregnancy becomes a life at 24 weeks and this is the guidance that the British Medical Council takes from doctors when regulating abortions.
"We think this is a very important distinction to make between the advice given to women by the pro-life organisations and organisations like ourselves, because ours is what the doctors say," said the spokesperson for Abortion Rights.
An argument put forward by the pro-life organisation was that the pro-choice argument weakened because they do not take into consideration the actual physicality of what is in a woman’s body.
These arguments become even more contentious when an abortion is undertaken after a woman has been raped.
Josephine Quintavalle said that rape is a particularly interesting subject.
"What needs to be remembered is that the baby is still half the woman’s.
"What the pro-choice people are saying is that just because the woman has been raped the child should be killed," said Josephine.
Abortion Rights have spoken very strongly on the issue.
"When a woman has gone through the trauma of rape and then is forced to carry the rapist’s unborn child it’s absolutely inhumane and entirely unacceptable," said the spokesperson for Abortion Rights.
"It is not to say that the rights of the foetus are not important but it shouldn’t be put above the right of a living human being with a life and a family."
The issue of abortion is highly emotive and legislation does not make it any clearer. The 1967 Abortion Act does not technically legalise abortions but provides a legal defence for carrying them out.Abortions can be carried up to 24 weeks into the pregnancy and be terminated by a medical practitioner based on the signature of two doctors and conditions that the pregnancy would create greater harm to the mental and physical health of the women.
Pro-life organisations are campaigning to have the abortion legislation tightened up and have psychiatrists examine the women on the issues of mental health rather than doctors. The pro-choice group want the legislation loosed, to see abortions on "request" and for women not be put through the procedure of two doctors’ signatures.
Both the organisation and campaigners have put forward passionate arguments on the emotional diametric debate. The demo or vigil - whatever it is to be called - was only a small affair, but the passion and engagement of those involved will keep the abortion issue alive.