Abortion
Anti-abortion rhetoric is fuelling stigma and shame surrounding the medical procedureGetty

A protester is walking up the path towards me. She is carrying a cross made with sticks tied onto her umbrella and is chanting Bible verses. When she is right in my face she screams 'MURDERER' but I'm not scared. It is more annoying than anything. I have got a million and one things to do, and she is upsetting women in the clinic and putting the staff on edge.

Working in an abortion clinic certainly wasn't the career I dreamed about when I was a schoolgirl. My mum's a nurse and told me in no uncertain terms that I should go out and live my life and not follow in her footsteps, but I got to my mid-twenties and nursing still felt like the right path for me.

One of my first jobs was working for a charity supporting homeless people and women escaping abuse. It was shocking how much of it had started when they were pregnant. I met women who had been beaten up and lost their baby or weren't sure they wanted to continue with a pregnancy because they were frightened of what their partners would do. When I came across Marie Stopes UK at a recruitment fair it made perfect sense. It felt like a continuation of what I was doing but supporting women who had already made that decision.

Working at the clinic in Brixton, I see about 50 women a day, each with their own story to tell and reason for being there. I hear heart-breaking stories of women who longed for a baby then discover there are foetal anomalies; women who wanted their pregnancies to begin with then found out their husbands had cheated on them; women from different social backgrounds and different ethnicities speaking different languages.

Everyone from teenagers to women in their forties who assume they are going through the menopause then are shocked to discover they are pregnant. I have to adapt to meet each woman's needs from translators to counsellors, STI screening to contraceptive advice. Many women only know about the pill and condoms and hadn't ever thought about an implant or IUD. I tell them: 'Much as it's been lovely to see you, I don't want to see you again." It's all about trust and building a rapport. It may not feel like it at the time but they are going to have an active sex life again and it's important they enjoy it and are protected from STIs and any further unplanned pregnancies.

Very often the Irish women I see have travelled over on their own. It's so sad. One young woman confided in me that she couldn't even tell her partner. I am lucky that my family and friends are absolutely behind me. Mum is really proud and even my nan will happily tell people her granddaughter works for an abortion service. There's no point hiding it, it is legal in the UK after all. Yet it was only after I started working here that some of my friends opened up to me about their abortions. They all had positive experiences and were totally confident in their decision, but hadn't felt able to talk about it openly. I just wish there wasn't such a lot of stigma around something that one in three women in the UK will go through.

Something that shocked me when I started working here was hearing lots of women say they thought they were going to be judged. We are here to help women not judge them and I would be absolutely mortified if anyone felt otherwise. Afterwards most of the women I see are so thankful. We have a folder in South London bursting with cards and letters personally naming staff. It means so much when you get that kind of response.

I recently saw a woman who had travelled from mainland Europe. She had irregular periods and didn't have a clue she was pregnant until she was already three months' pregnant. She was a student, wasn't in a loving relationship and knew it wasn't the right time, but it was a race against the clock. I was so happy that she got the treatment she wanted so desperately in time.

Sadly that's not always the case. Some of the most difficult situations I have had to deal with are with women who don't realise how far along they are. I remember one woman who was completely mentally prepared for having an abortion and then when she was scanned found out she was over the legal limit. It was such a shock. She hadn't considered the idea of having the baby and needed a lot of compassion and support with understanding her options. A week later I gave her a call to see how she was and make sure she was in touch with her local midwives.

At the end of the day I drive out past the protesters. They are all wearing cameras but I don't mind if they film me. As I said they are far from the most challenging part of my job. That's not to say it wouldn't be phenomenal to have buffer zones preventing protestors from harassing women. It would be such a relief to know that women don't have to put up with seeing those hideous posters, or get handed leaflets full of lies telling them that having an abortion means they'll catch breast cancer or become infertile. But as long as they are fairly peaceful I leave them to it. If anything they confirm to me every day why I do what I do.

Helen Bradley is Marie Stopes UK clinical team leader in Brixton. On 15 October Marie Stopes is marking 90 years since it opened our first central London clinic.