A teacher campaigning for improved abortion education in schools says that she “won’t be intimidated” after receiving a legal threat from an anti-abortion organisation.

Gemma Clark, who has been a teacher in Scotland since 2016, launched a petition in November 2023 calling for “a health focused and stigma challenging educational resource on abortion” to be made available to “all secondary schools in Scotland.”

The Herald reported in February that the petition would be considered by the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee. 

She has now been contacted by lawyers acting for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), a controversial anti-abortion group which also campaigns against abortion buffer zones and opposed the introduction of equal marriage.

Read more: Anti-abortion group has carried out dozens of school visits

A letter, dated 28 April 2023 and sent by Glasgow firm Livingstone Brown, complains that Ms Clark’s allegations that the SPUC had spread misinformation are false and defamatory. It goes on to offer her the “opportunity to visit [SPUC] offices and hear directly from staff” and to “speak to women who have benefitted” from the work they do. The letter also states the SPUC position that treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is not regarded as abortion.

However, the final paragraph returns to the topic of defamation and states that the offer to visit SPUC premises “is made without prejudice any other course action that SPUC may consider necessary to protect their public reputation.”

Several outlets have reported on the activities of the SPUC. VICE News revealed the organisation’s links to anonymous American donors. The Guardian newspaper has previously alleged that an SPUC leaflet made claims about the impact of abortion, suggesting the risks included  depression, anxiety, infertility and breast cancer, whereas NHS guidance says having an abortion does not increase the risk of breast cancer or mental health issues, or affect a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant in future.

The SPUC has denied spreading misinformation on abortion, claiming its content is based on “scientific facts surrounding life before birth”.

Read more: Local authorities did not provide alternative voice to abortion group

Materials platforming the SPUC have recently been removed from the BBC Bitesize website and last year a theatre company performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival disassociated itself from the group.

Speaking exclusively to The Herald, Clark said that the letter felt like an attempt to ‘intimidate me into silence.”

“All I’m doing is referring to easily available public information that is already out there and I think I have a right to talk about these things.

“I am a teacher and I’m petitioning for education resources. I’ll be contacting my union for support. I’ve also had a lot of messages from teachers at Catholic schools who support my petition and are worried about the threat to women’s rights, including abortion rights, but feel they can’t speak publicly about it.”

“It is worrying as I’ve read articles about the amount of money this groups gets so I know they have a lot of disposable income to chase individuals.

Asked if the legal threats had made her reconsider her campaigning, she said: “Absolutely not. It has made me more determined and it has made me realise how precarious the situation is in Scotland. We have these right-wing groups trying to take away the rights of women and LGBT people and intimidate those who speak out against it.”

Read more: Anti-abortion rhetoric is not pro-life. Keep it out of schools

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon, who has been a vocal supporter of hospital buffer zones, condemned the SPUC tactics and called on the education secretary to “urgently review the role” of such groups in Scottish schools.

“Anti-choice organisations are leading a campaign against abortion clinics in Scotland, and it would be worrying if they started using the threat of legal action to scare off women who are standing up to them.

“With anti-choice organisations gaining access to schools, there is an urgent need in this climate to ensure young people have access to accurate and balanced information.

“Factual abortion education informing young people of their legal rights should be mandatory within statutory sex and relationships education.

“It does a disservice to young people when discussion of abortion in schools is framed as a moral and abstract debate, as opposed to a healthcare issue related to sexual health and relationships.

“Young people and their teachers deserve access to high quality learning materials, free from intimidation and pressure.”

The SPUC did not respond to a request for comment.