WOMEN attending an Oxford abortion clinic are being left 'distressed and frightened' by weekly pro-life demonstrations outside, it has been claimed.

The Rectory Road branch of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has joined a national call for buffer zones around clinics to keep activists away.

But the group in question, Oxford Pro Life Witness, has insisted it is 'here to help' and will continue peaceful protests 'for the foreseeable future'.

Carlie Pendleton, 28, a postgraduate student at Oxford University, passed by the group during one of its regular Wednesday demonstrations last month.

She said: "It was a silent protest directly outside the clinics, distributing pamphlets and talking to passers-by, holding signs and placards with some quite graphic messages.

"Once I realised what it was I was appalled and shocked. I can imagine it would make women feel uncomfortable."

Ms Pendleton, who is from Virginia in the US where abortion laws are very strict, underwent a procedure at BPAS Oxford herself last September.

She said: "The staff were amazing from start to finish. They were professional and warm, and made sure I was aware of all my options."

About 1,000 NHS-funded abortions are carried out at BPAS Oxford every year and the clinic also offers information on sexual health and the contraceptive pill.

BPAS spokeswoman Abigail Fitzgibbon said: "There is an ongoing presence at BPAS Oxford. Staff are aware and are liaising with the police and BPAS head office.

"The police have been responsive and the staff feel supported though sadly the anti-abortion activists are still there. There is an ongoing presence at BPAS Oxford. BPAS

"Women can be really distressed and frightened by these people.Women should be assured that they can ignore these people and let us know if they are worried."

Since 2014 a national campaign has been run by BPAS for legislation to create safe spaces around the edges of clinics.

One BPAS Oxford user, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "They do not understand how hard it is to make this decision and their presence makes it so much harder."

But Amanda Lewin, who founded Oxford Pro Life Witness about five years ago, said the group was non-aggressive and wanted to support pregnant women.

The group is largely made up of Oxfordshire residents and has also held monthly demonstrations outside the John Radcliffe Hospital.

Mrs Lewin, 45, from Bicester, said: "We have very strict rules. All of our posters are attractive and bright, and about the mum, and the baby.

"If I saw anything I thought was wrong I would say 'You can't do that here'. I would never let anyone shout, be aggressive or angry, go on the property or run after people."

She added that the group had received hostile responses from the public before and was in contact with local PCSOs in East Oxford.

But she said: "We will be here for the foreseeable future. We are here for the mothers, to say it's a baby, and we can help you.

"Pro-life has a very bad reputation because of some of the things that go on in America but religion is never brought into it. To me it's a humanitarian subject."

Thames Valley Police said no crimes had been reported at the Oxford BPAS during any of the demonstrations.