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November 2017


Battle over free speech outside abortion clinic

Councillors in the London borough of Ealing have backed a proposal to hinder pro-life groups from protesting outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in the borough, the first ban of its kind. The motion was brought forward by Councillor Binda Rai who claimed the ban would allow women to access "legal healthcare without intimidation". (As quoted by the BBC) 

The Good Counsel Network, a prolife group which offer alternatives to women approaching the clinic, has held vigils there for the last 23 years without any criminal charges. Clare McCullough, the organisation's founder told the BBC: "We're there to tell women that there is an alternative to abortion. We may disapprove of abortion, but we don't disapprove of individuals who are in trouble. These woman are not being offered these alternatives inside Marie Stopes." (As quoted by The Telegraph)

After the vote Ms Rai commented saying said this could bring "national implications", and that she was "absolutely thrilled that there was such huge support in the chamber for the motion, and right across the parties. ..It was really good. And this is really a stand for women, and for women's rights to access healthcare that is legally available to them." (As quoted by the BBC)

BBC hosted a discussion on this issue on Sunday Morning Live on 15th October. The participants were Anna Veglio-White from Sister Support, Charlie Peters, journalist, Pam Lowe, sociologist, Alina Dulgheriu from Good Counsel Network and Ruth Rawlins from Abort67. Alina spoke about how she herself was offered help outside an abortion clinic and now has a two-year-old daughter. Ruth spoke about women need to know the reality of abortion and Charlie Peters spoke up for free speech saying that if you ban these protests 'You criminalise free speech and you are allowing the state to dictate which opinions are acceptable on public land." Anna Veglio-White and Pam Lowe both suggested that a Public Space Protection Order should be used to stop the vigils but Charlie Peters pointed out that anti-social behaviour is already illegal and curbed by British law. He said "Having people demonstrating and voicing opinions, gathering and praying, that's not illegal and it shouldn't be." (Quoted from Sunday Morning Live)

In a separate interview Clare McCullough, the Good Counsel Network's founder, commented on Public Space Protection Orders saying: "Most lawyers would agree those orders were not put in place for this kind of issue.....They're not there to suppress freedom of speech...I think it would be a grave misuse and would have implications for all kinds of groups who are protesting all kinds of things." (As quoted by the BBC)

Abortion providers have praised the decision. Managing director of Marie Stopes UK, Richard Bentley has described it as "ground-breaking" and said "We hope that other local authorities will follow this example and act to increase protection for women in their area," (As quoted by the BBC) A spokesman for British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: "While today’s vote is undoubtedly a significant step forward for women and residents in Ealing, anti-abortion protests are a national problem in need of a national solution. The situation in Ealing is sadly not unique, and women and clinic staff across the country report being followed, filmed, and harassed when trying to access or provide legal healthcare services. This has to stop. (As quoted by the Telegraph)